Programming note: Coverage of Game 5 between the Sharks and Kings begins tonight at 7 p.m. on CSN California (Channel locations)
SAN JOSE – It was a memorable affair for James Sheppard on Thursday night in Game 4.
Not only did the third liner score his first career playoff goal in his 21st career postseason game, Sheppard was involved in a last-minute scrum after pushing and shoving with defenseman Alec Martinez. A shot from Willie Mitchell while Sheppard was still tangled up with Martinez was the tipping point for a rough-and-tumble ending to the Kings’ 6-3 win.
“It’s going to be a series like that, and you’ve always got to keep your head up,” Sheppard said. “There’s going to be bodies flying everywhere and you’ve got to be on your toes all the time to make sure you don’t get one that’s going to put you out for a game or two.”
Sheppard said he saw Mitchell coming his way, but “I didn’t know what was going to happen. He’s not going to take a baseball swing at my head; maybe if he was going to do that I would have been a little more aware. He’s going to stick up for his teammates and play tough.”
Sheppard didn’t seem to harbor too much animosity about the ordeal.
“It’s playoff hockey. That’s why we play,” he said.
The 26-year-old has found some success on the scoresheet, with four points (1 goal, 3 assists) in four games. He was essentially an afterthought on the roster before the Olympic break, but has found a way to carry over his late season success into the playoffs.
“Even this year, we’d be lying if we said he wasn’t on life support as far as getting it going, but he found a way to get it done,” Todd McLellan said earlier in the week.
Still, Sheppard has struggled in the faceoff circle. In 24 draws, he’s has won just five, while McLellan has had Joe Pavelski and even Tomas Hertl in Game 4 line up in the circle rather than Sheppard.
In Game 4, the Sharks kept their third line of Sheppard, Hertl and Tommy Wingels together while Pavelski remained on the top line. Hertl seems to be getting better every game, and his strong shift helped lead to Sheppard’s rebound goal.
“It’s a lot of fun. He’s a young kid who has a creative mind,” Sheppard said of the 20-year-old rookie. “It’s good because it creates holes for us with the defenders because they don’t know what he’s going to do. He’s so creative and jumpy and agile.”
[IN THE CREASE: Sharks get another chance to end Kings' season]
Whether McLellan leaves his third line alone or makes a change early on, like he did in games one and two, is anyone’s guess. Sheppard will continue to go about his business either way.
“We want to chip in any way we can, whether it’s physical play, whether it’s blocking shots, whether it’s getting goals,” Sheppard said. “Anything you can do is great and we’re happy, but not satisfied. There’s more we can bring every game and every shift, so hopefully we can do that tonight.”