SAN JOSE -– It was telling that on Tuesday, after the Sharks lost Game 3 of their first round playoff series with the Kings, that the only players on the ice at the practice facility other than the healthy scratches were forwards and linemates Chris Tierney, Tommy Wingels and Nick Spaling, defenseman Brent Burns and backup goalie James Reimer.
Just about every day between playoff games this time of year brings with it an optional skate. It wasn’t optional for the fourth liners, who had taken a combined six minor penalties in games two and three, and who saw barely any ice time in the third period and overtime of the Kings’ 2-1 win Monday.
They were much better in Game 4, allowing coach Pete DeBoer to roll four lines for the duration of the Sharks’ vital 3-2 triumph, moving them to within one win of the second round.
"They were excellent,” DeBoer said. “I think with our group, every time this year that we challenged them to be better, they respond. I think that speaks to the character in the room.”
Spaling was perhaps the target of the most criticism after Game 3, as he had taken three minor penalties in just a five-period span. There was reason to believe he might be the guy removed from the lineup for Dainius Zubrus, who has yet to make his debut in the series.
But in Game 4, not only did Spaling play nearly three minutes more than he did on Monday, he was out there as one of the Sharks’ five skaters while they were trying to protect a precarious one-goal lead.
“I think it was good to play the way we did in Game 4. It was a good bounce-back for everybody,” Spaling said. “Our line played better, for sure. That’s the thing about the playoffs, is every game there’s another one a day or two later. You’ve just got to refocus on the next game.”
The 27-year-old relished the chance to help the Sharks seal the win on Wednesday.
“It’s a fun time to be out [on the ice],” Spaling said. “It’s the reason we play, right?”
Spaling, who played for DeBoer and assistant coach Steve Spott in OHL Kitchener from 2005-08, was mentioned last week by DeBoer as a guy who can raise his game in the playoffs. Spaling has 11 points (3g, 8a) and a plus-seven rating in 37 career postseason games.
Having that trust up and down the lineup from the coaching staff, as well as an ongoing trust factor among teammates, was one of the principal reasons the Sharks never panicked –- and, in fact, raised their game in their own zone –- after the Kings turned a 3-0 San Jose lead into a slim 3-2 edge, according to Joe Thornton.
“We really do trust each other that we’re going to get the job done. It’s a nice feeling to have.” Thornton said. “Even though they scored the two in the third, we just kept going. There’s nothing to hide from, we just keep going and keep throwing out four lines and six D. Ultimately, we got it done as a team.”
DeBoer said: “We had 20 guys participating in a positive way [Wednesday] night, and that’s the key for us.”