The LA Kings started their game with San Jose on Monday night secure in the knowledge that they’d chased their opponent’s primary goalie from his crease. And that was before the drop of the puck. Antti Niemi, pulled twice in the series, was on the bench to watch Alex Stalock get the start. Before the end of the game, they would chase the entire Sharks team back to San Jose, defeating them both on the scoreboard and in San Jose’s mind.
The Kings victimized Stalock early, scoring just past the five-minute mark. The crowd was wowed. They were loud. They were (if I say proud right now, you’ll quit reading, so I won’t) something else or other. The goal came when Drew Doughty took the puck into the zone on the left side. He waited for Williams to get to the front of the net, or crease actually, and tossed it over for the other player to bang in.
And they were even more pumped up when San Jose sent their bruiser out to fight the Kings’ tough guy 32 seconds later. It was Desjardins versus Clifford, and the latter won. So let’s tally up: you have your second goalie in net. The other team scores first and fast. Your meathead gets a smackdown.
You’re in trouble.
And that’s how things went as period one went on. But then in period two, the Kings stopped doing all that they had been doing in the first frame. Namely, they quit putting the puck in deep on San Jose, instead being content for lazy dumps that didn’t get anywhere near the end boards.
Time and again, the Sharks swept up the puck and turned it the other way, coming at the LA team in waves. They started the period with 11 shots to the Kings’ 12. They ended it with 20 to LA’s 17. And up until the last little bit of the period, LA’s shot total for the frame was two.
Jonathan Quick was sharp, way more himself than the guy who let in 16 goals in the first three games of the series. But he also looked like he was on an island, no help coming from any side. He held on, allowing one goal in period two but probably saving the home team from a 3-1 deficit.
One particularly dangerous chance came when the Kings went down 5-on-3 with both Regehr and Clifford in the box. The Kings ended up taking three minors in the period all totaled. But on the chance after the 5-on-3, they were much, much better than they’d been all period at controlling the puck. They cleared it all the way down the ice four times, and another two, they got it out of their zone and over the center red line. In other words, they asserted themselves, which they had not been doing earlier in the period. When the PK was over, the crowd came alive, waving white towels and yelling encouragement.
The Sharks did get a goal to tie it in period two, Sheppard from Braun and Torres. They had penetrated the zone and were in the high slot, then got the puck to the point for a shot that floated and was redirected past the netminder.
The game turned in the third because LA started doing the simple action of penetrating deep into the San Jose zone. They then scored three quick goals, the first of which would be the eventual winner.
The reaction of the San Jose coach to that goal after the game tells you a lot about the team’s mindset: “We got cheated. Simple as that. I was told that you could see the puck laying behind his [Stalock’s] feet the whole time. That is why the whistle didn’t go. It’s pretty clear when you look at it after.”
What’s pretty clear? It’s pretty clear that the puck was lying behind the goalie next to his feet. It’s pretty clear that the whistle didn’t go. It’s pretty clear that in those circumstances, an opposing player has the duty to try to score. Williams did that with a poke through the pads.
If anything, what happened was that Williams got his stick under Stalock and pushed him back, which put the puck in the net. Looking at replays, it doesn’t appear that he could have shoved his stick far enough in to contact the puck, nor do you see the stick behind the goalie. So maybe the call should have been that he shoved the goalie in and with him the puck, and that’s not a good goal.
But neither McLellan or anyone else said that. Here’s Joe Thornton: “I don’t know. From the bench it looked like Al [Stalock] had it covered for a little bit of time. The coaching staff felt like they [LA] were just pushing in to the net.”
So they kinda, sorta know that there was a problem with the goal, but not really why. And their focus is on the “we got ripped off” angle. When you hear that, you know that they’re focused on the wrong thing. They did try to turn that around, Thornton saying, “We worked all 82 games to have home ice in this situation. I thought we played well until that one goal that we thought should have been disallowed. We go home now, and it’s a huge game.”
The coach said, “It was a hard fought game by both teams. They guys ending up scoring late, after that goal, but we need a Game 7 performance from everybody.”
Goalie Stalock said, among other things, “Those are the goals that will eventually win you the series.”
That goal, that goal. It’s not out of their heads, obviously.
The Sharks played some dirty hockey late, Thornton shoving into Drew Doughty and getting involved in some words and punching (with gloves on) with Quick. Before that, Richards of the Kings fought Couture of the Sharks and the latter’s point of view tells you a lot about the evening. “It’s one game and we go home. Everything’s on the line and we play desperate. . . . That’s the way it goes. It’s a seven-game series. They got that goal that I don’t think should have counted, and . . . now it’s time to rebound and clean stuff and win game seven.”
It is, now, a seven-game series. It wasn’t a few nights ago, with San Jose having jumped out to a 3-game lead early. “It’s up to the leaders and coaches to regroup after a goal like that, and we didn’t, so we’ll move on.”
The goal, the goal. Is that all they’ve been thinking about all night long now?
They may do what Couture said and move on, but it’s going to take a lot for them to get their heads right. Meanwhile, the Kings are exactly where they’ve wanted to be for a week—with one game deciding it all.
Willie Mitchell went out in period two with a leg injury, it appeared. Sutter claimed to have no update after the game.
The final game is Wednesday night, 7pm San Jose time.