It's Game Six tonight for the San Jose Sharks in Los Angeles, and perhaps, it's a game they never needed to play -- but now that they have to? The Sharks are desperate to win and avoid a Game Seven back at home on Wednesday night.
Because anything goes in a Game Seven, and even on home ice, it's not where a team that was once up 3-0 in a series wants to be. But that's where the Sharks find themselves after a listless, pathetic effort in Game Five on Saturday night.
With a chance to clinch the series at home, San Jose came out flatter than a smooth sheet of ice. The Los Angeles Kings outshot them 18-6 in the first period, and the Sharks trailed, 2-0, after the first 20 minutes. Then, just 22 seconds into the second session, L.A. scored again, and the game was effectively over.
Backup goaltender Alex Stalock came in and finished the game for a shell-shocked Antti Niemi, who was pulled for the second straight game in the series -- leaving the question on many San Jose fans' minds, whether Niemi is ever going to be able to help the Sharks win that elusive Stanley Cup.
Niemi won the Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010, but he didn't need to be stellar that postseason: he had a 2.63 goals-against average that spring, along with a .910 save percentage. Pedestrian numbers, to be sure, but enough on that team.
This spring for the Sharks, Niemi has posted numbers much worse: 3.90 GAA, .882 SP. And his San Jose teammates are on the verge of a historic collapse after taking a 3-0 lead in the series.
Sure, the team won Game Three in Los Angeles in overtime, and it may take another gutty, gritty effort like that to close out this series tonight in Game Six. How the Sharks respond to this adversity will tell the watching public a lot about the team's fortitude and chances to win the Cup this year.
It was a weak sign in Game Five, of course: the Kings played faster and harder, and they won. Tonight, the Sharks will have to turn the tables on a very good team -- again -- if they want to advance in the postseason playoffs.