The San Jose Sharks have a chance to take their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series by the throat Tuesday, April 22. They embarrassed the Los Angeles Kings in the first two games to the tune of a 13-5 combined score and a Game 3 victory will likely pull the plug on this Pacific Division semifinals.
The Sharks have been saying all the right things about their rivals, from pointing out that blow-out wins count the same as overtime wins to reminding everyone that the St. Louis Blues were in the same position last year. The Kings came back to win the next four.
The reality is much different. All wins technically count the same, but the reality is that Los Angeles has only been even competitive for about a quarter of this series.
San Jose let up in the third period of Game 1 with a 5-0 lead of a long season. That is not a bad work ethic but the weakness of flesh, and the comeback during that time is meaningless to determining the competition over the rest of the Stanley Cup playoff matchup.
The last 10 minutes of Game 2 were even but also hardly competitive with a 7-2 lead. It did feature some nasty play to be expected when one Pacific Division rival dominates another, including a spearing of Logan Couture for which Pro Hockey Talk reported Monday that Mike Richards will not be suspended.
That leaves 100 other minutes of hockey, 75 of which have been dominated by the Sharks. In the first 10 minutes of Game 2, the Kings took a 2-0 lead by being opportunistic in a fairly even game. Their Pacific Division rivals were not even held off for 15 more minutes before the dam broke.
Before 20 minutes had passed from the second Los Angeles goal, the game was tied. San Jose grabbed the lead with over five minutes left in the second period, and blew the game wide open with five goals in the first 10:06 of the third.
The Sharks dominating 75 percent of two games is worse for the Kings than losing two one-goal games against the Blues. Only four teams in Stanley Cup playoff history have ever come from a 3-0 deficit to win a series, and it not going to happen for a team being dominated on the road.
This is a must-win game for Los Angeles, a team that has not even looked like it could compete. Yet there are three major reasons San Jose should still be worried about losing this series...
The Los Angeles Kings have been playing uncharacteristically bad in their own end. The San Jose Sharks have had numerous odd-man rushes and even breakaways already in two games.
That is going to be rare for the rest of this series. When it does happen, expect Jonathan Quick to bail them out more frequently.
To this point, Quick has been shaky. No one knows better than San Jose how he can take over a series.
In the 2013 Western Conference semifinals, Quick and the Los Angeles defenders gave up just 10 goals in seven games. They cannot hold their much-deeper Pacific Division rival to that scoring pace, but can reduce the current of scoring to a trickle the rest of the way and get back in the series.
A win changes everything
Coming into third game of the other Pacific Division semifinals (perhaps appropriately titled even with one Central Division team since it is only one year removed from being a division rival), many wondered if the Dallas Stars would win a game. Only a let-down by the Anaheim Ducks in the opener made that game close, and a shorthanded game-winning goal in Game 2 could have broken the young team.
After winning the first home game 3-0, the Stars have now out-scored the Ducks in the series, have the momentum and can draw even with another win. Since the third game has not happened yet for the San Jose Sharks, the Los Angeles Kings can change everything with one win.
Sure, the Sharks dominated the first two games. They also have quite a bit of history of complacency. They lost a two-goal, third-period lead in the fifth game of the 2011 Stanley Cup second-round series against the Detroit Red Wings and needed seven games to take it. They had a 2-0 lead on the Edmonton Oilers in 2006 and were less than eight minutes away from a 3-0 lead but lost, then were not really competitive in the last three games. They were just over half a minute away from taking a 3-1 series lead in 2007 and blew that game before losing the next two.
Meanwhile, the Kings have the history of winning the big games. With the 2012 Stanley Cup and the comeback against the St. Louis Blues in 2013 in their history, any win in Game 3 puts them firmly back in the series; a decisive one probably even erases the bad losses in the first two games.
Road game rivalry
These two teams have played over 30 times in the last four seasons, and one can count the number of times the winner was the road team on one hand. Since the two teams are Pacific Division rivals, they know each other well.
That makes matchups key, and having the last change more significant than in most Stanley Cup playoff series. It also plays to the hand of the Los Angeles Kings, whose elite coach knows some of the opposition even better for having coached them.
As things go wrong in the opposing building, confidence is bound to sink as ghosts of failures past are recalled. Losses in the next two games will also raise doubts for the San Jose Sharks about whether playoff disappointment is coming again.
Any team can steal one road game. If the Kings win their home games as they are certainly capable of doing, they can still win this series.