The Staples Center was rocking, the Los Angeles Kings were on fire, and the San Jose Sharks had no answers. Antti Niemi was pulled, the score was 4-0, and it looked like the Sharks had gone back to their playoff underachieving ways.
In reality they had the Kings right where they wanted them.
The Sharks survived an early barrage of goals by the Kings to score five in the second period and tie the game at five heading into the third period and eventually overtime.
In overtime Devin Setoguchi put the Kings out of their misery with a game-winner that shocked the Kings and left the Staples Center crowd stunned in disbelief.
How did a game that was so one-sided end up turning the other way? Even the Kings don’t know.
The Brad Richardson, Wayne Simmonds and Kyle Clifford line was dominating San Jose scoring two goals and creating a bevy of opportunities for the Kings. Their physicality and energy wore down the Sharks and kept Niemi on his toes to the point that on Richardson’s tally he misplayed the puck that led to the goal.
Once he left the game the fortunes seemed to turn in favor of the Sharks and turn in furious fashion.
All three lines and every big name for the Sharks got involved in the action and turned their level of play up a notch. Patrick Marleau started the fury then came rookie sensation Logan Couture, Ryan Clowe, Joe Pavelski then finally Setoguchi in OT. All in all the Sharks scored 5 goals on 18 shots and found holes in a young and overmatched Kings defense.
As bad as Jonathan Quick looked from the second period on a lot of the blame has to go on to the shoulders of Drew Doughty who after playing the best game of his playoff career played the worst one.
He was routinely out of position and caught off guard. On the Setoguchi goal Doughty was way out of position and had couldn’t catch up to Setoguchi to even make an attempt on the puck. His poor play along with the lackluster play of Alec Martinez and the rest of the defensemen had as much to do with the Kings losing the game as Marleau, Couture and the Sharks stepping up to win it.
So who does this affect more, the Kings or Sharks?
The postseason ills of the Sharks have been much chronicled. After a terrible game two and first period of game three you could start to see the wheels coming off again for them. However, after such a furious comeback you have to wonder if the least talked about team in the Western Conference can turn this win into a mini run towards the Stanley Cup finals. It would have to start with Niemi playing better in net for them to have a shot, but when you spot a team 4 goals and comeback with ease then that tells you something about how good this team can be when it brings it’s a game.
As for the Kings their youth and inexperience showed its ugly head again. They’ve shown that they can score without the presence of their best scorer Anze Kopitar, but their focus will be a huge question mark heading into the rest of the series. Can a team this young come back from such a devastating defeat? I don’t think so.
I picked them to win the Cup at the beginning of the year but this team clearly isn’t ready yet. Unless Quick, Doughty and others play more consistently they’ll be exiting stage left in the first for the second consecutive year.
The Sharks are up 2-1 with a huge mental advantage going into game 4, quite a change for a team that has been long known for their playoff shortcomings. They have a chance to put the Kings, who are down in the dumps, on their backs for good. After last night’s 6-5 OT victory it looks like they’ll be able to handle that no matter what the Kings throw at them.