Cages Are a Good Thing

It was not “win or go home” for the Kings, but “win or stay home.” Dropping the game against San Jose Thursday would mean getting in the car and driving home to nothing. It’s kind of like being an English professor (which I am). One day you’ve got a million papers to grade and lectures to get ready. The next, it’s over. Summer’s here.

In the professor’s case, that’s a good thing. There’s no Stanley Cup for teaching literature (drag). But in the hockey player’s case, that’s not a good thing. All that’s left afterwards is the exit interview.

The Kings had no intention of letting that happen to them on Thursday night. And they came out bombing. They were trailing by 13-8 in shots near midway through the first, but they had scored the first goal, a charge down the right side by Dustin Brown and a feed into the slot to a charging Marian Gaborik. He potted his second goal of the playoffs, the twentieth of his career, putting the puck past Antti Niemi at 4:08 of the period.

The line he was on also contained Kopitar, which means that Justin Williams was moved off and Brown on this top line. But before the period was over, Williams, Kopitar, and Gaborik were back together. But in period two, the original (that is, new) combination came back once more.

Brown said of his performance, “That’s what is expected of me, and what I expect of myself. It’s not about what I did tonight. It’s about what I’m able to do the next game. We got the win, but we have to be better. We have to be better in our own zone. The score could have been a lot different, honestly.” By now, you’ve heard that the Kings ended up winning the game, so that was no spoiler.

The Kings were outshot in the period 17-12, but they held their lead. Until there were 7.3 seconds left. Then, a defensive breakdown in their end saw the Sharks pound a shot and rebound on Quick and him save both, but the ensuing shot-rebound was punched out of the air by James Sheppard and past Quick.

The goalie was not happy, and he took the puck out of the net on his stick and flung it down the ice. No wonder. He’d had no help on the play, and he’d already made a period and a half’s worth of saves in the frame.

The period was also filled with penalties, including one for what can only be called “futurecrime” (a reference to a movie you probably don’t remember seeing). First the backstory. The Kings’ Williams and Sharks’ Brent Burns were slashing away at one another on a faceoff and got called for minors. Five minutes later, the Sharks’ Brown and the Kings’ Clifford, meatheads both, were jawing and pushing, but lightly, at the same side on a faceoff outside the LA zone. They were immediately called for penalties. Misconducts.

They had done nothing. Sure, they were probably going to fight. That’s what this kind of player does. But they hadn’t, and even if they did, it would amount to nothing more than the two thugs of the teams beating each other down. So what? By the way, Tom Cruise was in that movie I’m cleverly trying not to admit that I can’t remember the name of.

Period two saw the Kings achieve the Sutter-mentioned goal of turning it into a 3-2 game. Then they turned it into a 4-2 game, with just 58.3 seconds left. Their play was backed up by a super-aggressive Jonathan Quick. He was out high above his crease and moving side to side in a way even more mobile than usual. In fact, it was a bit worrisome, as he let in the Sharks’ second goal on a big rebound of a type he usually doesn’t allow. It went straight into the slot on a three-on-two and was punched out of the air by Marleau. It was the second goal of the evening that had been redirected out of thin air. The third such goal was the fourth of the Kings, which came off the end boards to Toffoli, who batted it in without the puck touching the ice. Not many in the crowd could recall three pucks coming straight out of midair and going in in the past.

The Sharks’ coach commented about their game, “I thought we were as desperate as they were. I don’t think we executed anywhere near the way they did,” and called the team’s “net play” the problem. He was quick to say he didn’t mean the goaltending, but “the D men and forwards down low and the secondary chances we gave up.”

Period three saw the Kings with a 4-2 lead that they held until they increased it by one. Then they got an empty net goal at the end. San Jose, not content to lose or perhaps knowing they risked nothing, pulled their goalie, by this time the backup after Niemi let in five, with 3:08 to go. The Kings took until there was 1:28 left to score. Dustin Brown got a pass from a careful Tyler Toffoli to put it in the empty net.

After that, things got more chippy than they’d been all game. Three Sharks got roughing minors , and two Kings. Then Williams got a fighting major for a tussle with Braun. Burns and Regehr mixed it up at the end of the game, earning five at the buzzer.

Neither of these were fights, but they were close to punch-y. And after the game, Williams said something about what happened: “You keep playing a team, and bad blood is going to start from it. Rivalries start. We want to make this a series, and that’s what spilled over late in the game. We’re trying to make this a series now.”

“It’s obviously not like a game seven, because it’s not do-or-die for them, but it is for us. You’ve got to lay it all on the line. You’re not seeing typical Kings’ games right now, 6-3 tonight.”

Coach Sutter saw little difference between the game Tuesday and the one Thursday, saying, “There wasn’t much difference from game three to game four.” He then talked about the Dustin [Brown]-Justin [Williams] dichotomy. That is, he was asked about Brown, but he flipped it to Williams. “Dustin-Justin” he said, commenting “Justin got his game on, too, so it wasn’t only Dustin, somewhere.” He would not say where Brown, or Williams for that matter, would play in game five.

He said, “I don’t think there’s any momentum from game to game except to play it the same way,” and his final comment was the winner. When asked about the challenge of going into San Jose, he almost said something about the Shark Tank, but then hesitated and changed it to, “We’re going into the cage,” and when asked whether he likes that, he said, “Cages are a good thing.”

For a final comment, see this: “It’s three one. It’s not anything to write home about, though we’re glad we got the win.” This was Williams’ final word.

Twitter for me: @growinguphockey. Be prepared for info mixed with silliness.

Read my books, please. Growing Up Hockey the first, and Pond Hockey the latest. Thanks.


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