After two dominant games at home, many people already had the San Jose Sharks in the second round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. Remaining doubters looking foolish after an overtime road win, but the Los Angeles Kings served notice that the Pacific Division semifinal series is not over with a second win Saturday, April 26.
Once again, it was not even close. The Kings dominated from the outset, scoring twice in the first period.
On the first, the Sharks had been on their heels for over a minute following a Jake Muzzin takeaway. When a brief counterattack was quashed by an Alec Martinez block, he was able to get the puck to Tanner Pearson on the rush. Antti Niemi came out a bit too far to his left and Tyler Toffoli was able to work toward the high slot after getting the puck and his shot found the far corner.
On the next, an odd-man rush left Niemi exposed when a Dustin Brown rebound came to Anze Kopitar for the easy goal. For the most part, he was keeping his team in the game. Los Angeles had 12 of the first 14 shots on goal and finished the period with 18 of 24.
On a power play carrying over to the first shift of the second period, Marian Gaborik got the puck from Drew Doughty and sent it deep in the zone. Jeff Carter was able to gather it behind the goal line and push it toward the front of the net, where it caromed off Brad Stuart's skate past Niemi.
Coach Todd McLellan was quick to pull the trigger. Neither team scored after that in back-and-forth play that was more the low-scoring affair people expected in this Pacific Division semifinal series.
Jonathan Quick returned to form, and San Jose better do the same or they will not be able to score enough against him. When he turned aside the high glove-side shot of a loose puck by Tommy Wingels in the third period, he was on his way to a fourth career Stanley Cup playoff shutout against his Pacific Division rivals.
Alex Stalock not only perpetuated his own great early Stanley Cup playoff perfection—over 57 minutes and 26 shots without a goal allowed so far—but ignited a goalie controversy. Niemi was the second-best San Jose goalie during the 2013-14 NHL season and looks the same so far in the Pacific Division semifinals.
McLellan would say no more about goalie questions than to say the staff has to make decisions about everyone. He had a notably terse demeanor, but was not as surly as Dan Boyle a little over three minutes into the post-game interview when asked about whether knowing they had mulligans to give may have affected their intensity:
What do you think? Do you think we went out there and said, 'guys, we got three more cracks at this?' ...I can't believe that's the question. No, we didn't.
There was not much questioning which team came out with more fire. The Kings won two more faceoffs but took advantage of 15 additional giveaways by the Sharks, who only made up for some of that with three extra takeaways and six more hits.
Still, Los Angeles only attempted one more shot but got 11 more on net thanks in part to actually blocking five more despite their higher attack time. San Jose was clearly not happy about its play or result.
A chip on the shoulder can be a great motivator or add pressure. So can yet another bad hit that could force the Sharks to go without their best defenseman.
Jarret Stoll hit Marc-Edouard Vlasic into the boards and then elbowed him in the head after he bounced back. McLellan tied the "hit to the head" to an "upper-body injury" in the same sentence, so who knows how badly he might be affected by the non-specific head injury, or whether the Kings could be without their best penalty-killing forward?
Either way, McLellan may want to make some lineup changes (Marty Havlat was playing well at the end of the 2013-14 NHL season). Thanks to a sweep of the Examiner.com stars of the game, Los Angeles is in a good position to tie the first-round Stanley Cup playoff series...