How worried were the Kings coming into the game on Tuesday night, the one that would, for all intents and purposes, determine how long their summer vacation would be?
Kinda worried, though in press reports, they denied that the Sharks were getting to them. But think about this: they had been beaten by a combined total of 13-5 over the first two games. This for a team that won the Jennings Trophy at the end of the regular season for giving up the fewest goals in the league, 174, an average of 2.12 per game. They had scored 206, by the way, for an average of 2.48. That means that, through the first two games, they had been bang-on their average of goals gained.
The difference? Jonathan Quick. Not that there’s any point in laying the blame for the losses at his doorstep. He hasn’t let in a bad goal yet, by most reckoning, but to let in that many—what the heck is happening? His GAA for the entire season (49 games, a reduced number due to injury) was 2.07. And in the year that the Kings won the Cup, he had a 1.95 in 69 games.
To put it bluntly: the Kings are not as good as they have appeared to be, except for Quick. But when he is off, their problems surface. Against the Sharks, those include being second to the puck and not being able to sustain an attack past a shot or two.
One indication of things going not all that well is when Drew Doughty is carrying the puck, not pulling up at the blueline, but trying to do it all himself. On Tuesday night, that was in evidence early, mainly because the Kings had reason to panic. The Sharks scored in the first four minutes on a horrible (for the Kings) and lucky (for them) play.
The puck went from the side of the net, off the skate of Regehr, bouncing right into the slot for Burns. He took a slapshot, but got only half the puck, which blooped up and over the players between him and the net and floated past Quick. Nobody’s fault, but a sign that perhaps it wasn’t in the cards to the Kings on this night, and that would mean, most likely, on the year.
Things shortly got worse, and it was because Doughty was doing what was just cited. Down behind the opposing net, he got whacked and hurt an arm, and before ten minutes of the first period had elapsed, he was in the dressing room. He would return around the five-minute mark, but to play a less visible role.
All of this comes after Quick said to reporters this week that he is not doing the job. He cited his routine, one that has worked for him for years, but said that it just hasn’t worked this week. In turn, his coach has said that it’s not Quick at whose feet the problems lie, but that it’s a total team game.
Perhaps his line shuffling on Tuesday was a reflection of his thought that the team is not doing the job. He had these combos together as the game got underway. Trevor Lewis was with Toffoli and Jeff Carter. Now, what is that? How do you bury Carter like that? You assume that he’s going to continue working well with the youngter Toffoli, and you wing it with Lewis.
A second trio was Brown, Stoll, and Tanner Pearson. Never heard of him? He’s just up from the AHL, though he played with the Kings for 25 games this year. A third featured Kopitar, Gaborik, and Williams, No surprise there. And finally there were the leftovers—Nolan, Richards, and Dwight King. Richards is apparently in the doghouse.
But not according to Sutter after the game. He mumbled through some numbers about lines one, two, three, four, and then mentioned that Richards played eighteen minutes on the night, and that that’s hardly line four production. Apparently any misunderstanding was our, the press’s. The reason for that, if you’ve been following all year, is because he’s pretty sure nobody in LA has any idea how hockey works.
Why say that? Well, maybe because he said on this night, “You guys don’t watch enough games. You just make it up, off the sheet.” He was talking about turnovers in the Kings’ zone.
On the matter of who’s on what line, he said, “It’s just a matter of how you want to look at it,” in terms of whether a line is the top or another.
So if you’re keeping track of who’s in and who’s out of the Kings’ lineup, one important change from game two is that Sutter went back to dressing six defensemen, rather than the seven he had up north. That meant that Matt Greene found himself out of the lineup, as he frequently has been.
Leaving him out allowed the Kings to dress the requisite twelve forwards, and so by also sitting Kyle Clifford, this allowed both Pearson and Nolan to come in. The former is a recall, as was stated, and Nolan played eight minutes in game one.
To return to Mr. Quick, some interesting stats: since the 2012 playoffs, he is 25-15 with a 1.85GAA in the payoffs. He has won more playoff games than any other Kings’ goalie, with 29. And his GAA and save percentages are also club records. I know what you’re thinking—there’s not much competition. True, and even in the great 1993 run to the Finals, with the equally great Kelly Hrudey in net, the numbers were different. As people always said, a team like the Oilers, back then, would be happy to let you score seven goals. As long as they scored eight.
And to put the netminder’s season numbers in perspective, since he came back from injury, on January 4th, the keeper has a 17-12-4 regular season record with a 1.93 GAA and .921 save percentage. This over 33 games. In other words, what he’s doing, or not doing, in the playoffs is altogether not what you’d expect.
As things went on Tuesday night, the game shifted. First the Kings got a power play goal, a one-timer from the left dot by Stoll after Toffoli had done a spin-around no-look pass to feed him. The goalscorer clutched his hands after the puck went in, raising them to the ceiling and looking up as if to say, “Finally!” The fans agreed.
The celebration continued when Gaborik took a puck down from his own blueline. It was three-on-two, and he went wide left. Then instead of passing, he blasted across the crease and flung a backhand up over Niemi with two Sharks defensemen backing up to the net. It was the most explosive backhand I’ve ever seen live, a rocket that, had Gretzky been in the building, might have reminded him of himself.
The trouble was, the Kings’ bad luck picked up again soon after. Regehr went across his own crease and knocked Quick down, then was semi-lying on top of him when a shot was floated from the point by San Jose’s Demers.
Out front, local native Matt Nieto tipped the puck so that it bounced off the ice and up over Quick. The second period ended at twos.
But as Sutter says, it’s a 3-2 league, and shortly after the third started, the Kings made it so on a pass from Doughty to Kopitar. He carried the puck over the line and shot it. Carter got a stick on it mid-air in front of the goalie and redirected it slowly over his shoulder. That one stood up until about the midway part of the period, when Hertl tied the game at even strength. On the play, he got a shot, and saw Quick make a great glove save. Then he slammed one and had it stopped by a leg. The third shot was under the goalie for the goal.
It all happened so fast that the shots couldn’t be seen with the naked eye, and the shot total was 24-24 until a few seconds after the play resumed, when it was corrected to 25. (Yes, those guys above have access to replays.)
The game loosened up as the period got towards midway, with more chances, but especially for the Sharks. The shot total near the midway point of the period was 24-25, but by the end of regulation (sorry, forgot the spoiler alert a few sentences ago) it was 26 for LA, and 39 for San Jose.
So why weren’t the Sharks headed across the street to the hotel with big grins on their faces?
Everything Quick had not been in games one and two, he was in the last half of period three in game three. At one point, there were three shots that yielded two great saves and one miracle where the keeper somehow got a floater out of mid-air as it went through his crease. More shots yielded more magic, including a glove save and then, with about two minutes on the clock and the Kings shorthanded, a casual kick-out of a puck that could have almost ended LA’s season. Soon after, a shot came from Pavelski, and Quick saved it with his chest.
With 10.9 seconds left, Demers fired one from the point, and out to the left side, Couture swept a backhand rebound. Again, Quick got it. The shot total grew to the differential of 13 cited above.
In the locker room, the message must have been plain. On the San Jose side, just keep doing what we’re doing. If we get one past him, we’re good. If we don’t, there’s nothing much more we could accomplish than to have the puck all the time and be firing away from everywhere. In the LA room, it would be unspoken—this goalie’s gotten the monkey off his back and is playing like the guy who won us the Cup. Now we need to get out there and take this thing back.
It would take some risks on LA’s part, especially with the Sharks seeming able to control the puck and the pace of play so well in the third period. But the one chance the Sharks had, they capitalized on, Patrick Marleau scoring off of Voynov’s stick after the Kings had had five shots in period four.
The goalscorer said this afterwards: “Pavelski did some pressure. I was able to jump up off the boards and get a quick shot. I saw a replay, and it went off one of their D-men, and it went over the glove.”
Niemi had made some big saves in OT before that. “We weren’t playing with confidence,” Marleau said. “We were coughing pucks up there, not getting pucks in deep, what we were used to. Nemo held us in there, and we were able to get the win.”
Sutter, however, had the last word later one. “We won’t go quietly away, that’s for sure,” he said. I think he was searching for the Dylan Thomas line, “Do not go gentle into that good night,” but of that, I will never be certain.