After the game's outcome was fairly certain, three separate bouts erupted resulting in matching minors. That is to be expected when one team is fighting for its Stanley Cup life against a bitter Pacific Division rival, especially when the officials allow a Los Angeles to take a free punch on San Jose right in front of them.
This is Stanley Cup playoff hockey. Even the oddity of having two of the best defensive teams in the NHL combine for 34 goals in five games is Stanley Cup playoff hockey. That is why the Sharks still have to win one more game, and had to stand up for themselves when the referees chose not to call the penalty.
That was the source of two of the matching minors. There were two more fights after that. This Pacific Division rivalry has just gone to a new level.
The 2012 Stanley Cup champion Kings clearly reinforced their message that they are not done. Captain Dustin Brown made it possible with a game-sealing, empty-net goal with 1:28 left after Tyler Toffoli got him the puck.
Both teams came to play, and so did both goalies despite what the score and even the pulling of Antti Niemi may reflect. The team that first returns to its defensive identity will have the advantage moving forward.
Los Angeles struck in the first five minutes when Brown got the puck from Slava Voynov and fired it on net. Niemi made the save but Marian Gaborik was there to put home the rebound.
San Jose was able to tie the game in the final seconds before intermission thanks in large part to several impressive saves from Niemi. Jonathan Quick had already turned away 14 shots before Tomas Hertl fought off a check to get a quality scoring chance. The puck made its way back to Scott Hannan, whose shot was put home by James Sheppard.
On a power play early in the second, the Kings scored again. Mike Richards got the puck to two-time Stanley Cup champion and Shark-killer Justin Williams for the snap-shot, go-ahead goal that gave Jake Muzzin a secondary assist.
Not five minutes went by before Matt Nieto scored another goal in front of his family and friends, batting in a rebound of a Patrick Marleau shot. Then came the only stretch of the period longer without a goal—almost eight minutes.
That ended when Jarret Stoll got the puck to Willie Mitchell, whose shot was way off the mark but bounced off the boards for Williams to tip home before Niemi could get back to the post. As it turned out, the events surrounding the upcoming intermission would decide the game.
In the final minute of the second period, Los Angeles cashed in on about a minute of sustained pressure that forced a hurried San Jose line change. Before the defenders were set, Toffoli beat Niemi with a wrist-shot with assists from Alec Martinez and Jeff Carter.
Then Marian Gaborik scored a seven-meter wrist-shot goal 34 seconds into the third, with Anze Kopitar getting the assist. Niemi was pulled more to give him a rest than because he was failing.
That became clear in the post-game press conference when coach Todd McLellan blamed net play and was pointedly asked if going to Alex Stalock might carry over to the next game. He looked like he might explode from the question about a goalie that finally cracked under the onslaught after playing well early, but instead matter-of-factly clarified that he was talking about his team's play around the net, not Niemi.
The Pacific Division rival Kings had a commanding lead, and it looked like Williams had a hat-trick goal to seal it but Stoll's cross-checking penalty came first. The Sharks answered 26 seconds later when Patrick Marleau could not corral a Dan Boyle slap-shot rebound, but Joe Pavelski was able to get a stick on it to force it in to briefly make it a game again.
Stalock was pulled for the extra attacker with three minutes left, but they could not draw nearer. The team that has won the faceoff battle has now lost all four games. San Jose's 37-31 edge was frittered away with three more giveaways and two more Los Angeles takeaways.
However, a further look at Thursday's event summary shows the Sharks had more shots (39-31) and attempts (71-53). They blocked the higher percentage of attempts faced and allowed fewer shots through for each block (10-12). Despite the feistiness to end the game, hits were the lowest (48-35 Kings) that they had been in any previous games of this Pacific Division semifinals series.
As the series moves north again, comments by the game's top star Williams show Los Angeles is not overconfident:
We're certainly happy we got the win, but we feel we have a long way to go obviously. We're going take another step in San Jose and it is going to be a tough one.
Justin Williams actually scored three times, but only two counted thanks to a penalty. He had three official shots on four attempts, two hits, one block and a takeaway to make up for his giveaway in 16:01 ice time. He also had a slashing minor and fighting major.
Look for the veteran right-winger to be key to the efforts of the Los Angeles Kings to stay alive through the weekend. The San Jose Sharks should win if he is shut down.
Marian Gaborik made his biggest impact since being picked up by the Los Angeles Kings at the trade deadline. He had two goals on three shots and four attempts plus one hit in sparse playing time—just 13:41 overall, with only 10:28 in even-strength ice time.
The captain of the Los Angeles Kings delivered the fatal blow with an empty-net goal and also got the scoring started with a shot that created the rebound on the first goal. Those two points came on four shots and six attempts with just one giveaway, and he added 10 hits defensively in 16:43 ice time, with just one minor penalty.