In the first game of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, the San Jose Sharks were dominant through the first two periods. It was the last two periods that did in the Pacific Division rival Los Angeles Kings Sunday, April 20.
As the series shifts to Los Angeles, San Jose needs only two more wins over the final five games to advance to the second round. So far, this looks like a team headed for a deep Stanley Cup run.
It did not start out that way. After quitting on a third period in the series opener that saw the Sharks allow three unanswered goals before an empty-net score, they gave up two goals in the first half of the first period.
Jake Muzzin needed just 111 seconds to get the first goal. A Tommy Wingels giveaway led to a shot by Justin Williams, and the puck was sent deep after the San Jose failed to clear it. Anze Kopitar found Drew Doughty, who fed his blue line partner for a screened shot to take the lead.
Muzzin also scored the first goal in the first game of the Pacific Division semifinals. (At least this series can appropriately be called that, as both opponents are from within the division.) Los Angeles had all four shot attempts in the first 2:20 of the game, both faceoff wins, two of the three hits, the only takeaway and just one of the two giveaways despite the higher puck possession.
The Sharks had a 15-6 edge in shots for the rest of the period but still gave up the next goal when another scorer from the series opener's third period added a tally 9:33 in: Jeff Carter took possession of the puck along the boards in the attack zone and fired a centering pass in front of the crease for Trevor Lewis to redirect in.
Coach Todd McLellan said in the post-game press conference that he felt his lines were "running around a bit" even into the second period. About three minutes after intermission, he decided to move Tomas Hertl to the top line and have Joe Pavelski center the third line.
The new first line got the puck to the offensive blue line after the next faceoff, registering two hits. Then the fourth line took over.
The normally defensively-sound Marc-Edouard Vlasic had been on the ice for both first period goals, with the man he was defending scoring the second. He made up for it to some extent by taking the hit needed to get the puck out of the zone to set up the next attack.
About 10 seconds later, the Sharks were on the giving end of an offensive zone hit and cashed in on it. Raffi Torres delivered the hit to help keep it in the offensive zone. Andrew Desjardins took advantage of a giveaway and sent the puck to the high slot for Mike Brown's one-timer that was his first career Stanley Cup playoff goal.
Not five minutes passed when taking another hit resulted in a goal. Brown blocked a shot deep in his own end, and Raffi Torres advanced it to Desjardins in the neutral zone and took another hit to drop it back for the snap-shot goal from Jonathan Quick's glove-side circle.
Torres has scored five goals and two assists in seven games between the 2013-14 NHL season and Pacific Division semifinals, with at least a point in six of them. San Jose kept the pressure on and got the lead 5:15 before intermission—again because of physical play.
Seconds after a Matt Nieto hit in the defensive zone, Pavelski laid another and advanced the puck to James Sheppard on the defensive blue line. The once frequently-scratched forward continues to be a great asset, carrying the puck into the attack zone and firing a tough-angle shot that rimmed around to Justin Braun, whose shot through a Tommy Wingels screen beat Quick to the far side.
The third period loomed, but the Sharks had scored three unanswered. The Kings were rattled, committing uncharacteristic defensive mistakes. One allowed Patrick Marleau advance the puck out of his zone to start an odd-man rush just over a minute into the third.
His pass into the neutral zone was taken by Logan Couture, who sent it to Nieto entering the offensive zone on the right wing. The impressive rookie pulled up and fed it across to Marleau at the high, inside edge of the other circle for the wrist-shot, top-shelf goal.
The biggest defensive breakdown came about three minutes later. After a sustained attack by San Jose, a quick re-entry caught Los Angeles in a poor line change. Wingels was able to chip it to Dan Boyle in front of his blue line, who fed Pavelski on the attack too far across for the only defender to stop a wrist-shot goal from being ripped into the near corner.
After Thursday's third period, the Sharks knew better than to sit on a three-goal lead. Four minutes later, Marleau got the puck from Nieto in the attack zone and fed it to the slot. Slava Voynov got a stick on it to slow it down, but that only opened up the weak side of the net for Couture, who was able to slow down enough to wait for it.
Things naturally started to get chippy. Add the dominance of San Jose to the pride of Los Angeles and the Pacific Division rivalry to the importance of a Stanley Cup playoff series that is on the precipice of being over and the 11 penalties that followed were no surprise.
On the power play from the first one, Boyle fed Pavelski above the left-wing circle. Thornton had an open net to fire at when the cross-ice pass found him inside of the far circle. That ended the scoring, but the Sharks won the battles from the middle of the first until the middle of the third, when the game was decided.
The Kings won the faceoff battle 35-30 and committed only two more turnovers—four fewer giveaways but six fewer takeaways—with had one more hit, but lost many of the battles for the loose pucks. Most of the goals they surrendered were not on Quick but those defensive lapses. They also blocked only 10 shots for him, and he was seen delivering a message to the bench near the end of the game.
San Jose had only two more shot attempts, but 14 more on goal thanks to responding with 22 blocks. A dozen players scored for the second straight game, and the depth and speed of this team have been too much for Los Angeles to handle so far.
That being said, the Sharks clearly know what Mark Purdy of the San Jose Mercury News reminded fans in his column after the game—the series is far from over just two games in. McLellan pointed out that the Kings were down two games to none against the St. Louis Blues in the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs and came back to win the next four, and that "scores don't matter" because each win counts the same.
Torres admitted Los Angeles would be better, acknowledging that expecting more of this would be "kidding ourselves." Still, having to win four of five and at least one of two on the road, where the 2012 Stanley Cup champions have been out-scored 13-5 in two games. Having their best player scored upon three more times already than all seven games of the 2013 Western Conference semifinals has to shake them even more.
There were so many candidates to be Examiner.com's stars for San Jose's second game of the Pacific Division semifinals that is was hard to limit it to three...