SAN JOSE – For two periods at SAP Center on Thursday night, there wasn’t a whole lot not to like about the Sharks’ game in their playoff opener.
They lit up nemesis Jonathan Quick for five unanswered goals, with each of the four lines factoring in the scoring. They were physical, led by an energized Raffi Torres making his return to the lineup, and Mike Brown, who quickly got under the Kings’ skin. Goalie Antti Niemi wasn’t tested a whole lot, but still made some important saves after a roller coaster regular season.
The Kings dominated the third, but Brent Burns’ empty-net goal ended any thought of a miracle comeback in a 6-3 Sharks win in Game 1.
“Great game. We won,” Todd McLellan said. “We’ll talk about the third period. Obviously, we were a little disappointed there, but for the most part it was a real good game on our behalf.”
Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who had one goal and one assist in the win, said: “First two periods, I don’t think we could have done anything better. But the third period. … We stopped forechecking. We stopped shooting. But the first two periods were great. It was a great start. We’ll need that in Game 2, too.’’
Thornton’s goal got it started early, when he got his stick on Joe Pavelski’s shot from the slot at 3:06 of the first period. Less than two minutes later, the two teams reminded the sellout crowd how much they dislike one another, when Mike Brown drove to the net with the puck and with Slava Voynov, and the pair collided with Quick. An 11-man scrum ensued, and Quick, once he got to his skates again, went after Justin Braun for some reason.
“That’s playoff hockey,” Brown said. “We have to get to the net and get pucks to the net. That’s what I did. It was nothing out of the ordinary of what I would normally do. I was just playing hard.”
The episode was reflective of the way Torres, Brown and Andrew Desjardins skated the entire night.
“They were banging early. You could feel their energy,” Thornton said. “It just excited everybody else. They started the whole momentum shift for us tonight. Just a couple of big bangs, and we got the early lead and really went on from there.”
San Jose held a 28-18 edge in shots on goal after two periods, earning their commanding 5-0 lead on goals from Thornton, Tomas Hertl, Patrick Marleau, Torres and Vlasic. In the third though, the Kings had 16 shots on net – including three that went in – as opposed to just five for the Sharks.
When Trevor Lewis had a Jeff Carter shot deflect in off of his skate at 13:59, making it a 5-3 game, there was a bit of a worrisome feeling on the Sharks’ bench.
“Little bit, little bit,” Thornton said. “We kind of sat back a little bit. You knew they were going to come out and push hard.”
What did Vlasic and the Sharks learn from that final stanza?
“Not to do it. To do what we did in the first two periods would have been much easier,” he said. “We’ve got to do that next game, because they’ll be better.”
Quick was pulled after allowing the first five Sharks goals, and although he was hung out to dry on a few of them, he didn’t look his typical dominant self. But, neither did the rest of the Kings, at least for 40 minutes. Carter had a great look just 17 seconds into the game, but that was really his team's only glorious scoring chance through the first two periods.
Forwards Dustin Brown and Mike Richards combined for zero shots on goal, and were basically invisible the entire night.
The Kings, who flew back to Los Angeles after the game, will have two days to recover, or perhaps stew, and make adjustments before Sunday’s Game 2.
The Sharks will try and quickly move on too, knowing full well they didn’t get the Kings’ best.
“We now leave it alone. It’s over. It’s done,” McLellan said. “Regardless what the score was for and against us, we need to move on now, and prepare to get better and to be ready on Sunday.”
Torres said: "We’re fooling ourselves if we think it’s going to be a quick series. Those guys know how to win, obviously. We know they’re going to bounce back and come out with a big effort."