Another Stanley Cup is beyond reach for the San Jose Sharks, who lost Game 7 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals to the reigning Champion Los Angeles Kings 2-1. All the features of an epic Game 7 were there, critical board battles, goals ringing posts, unbelievable saves and bitter defeat. The middle frame became the nail in the coffin for the Sharks who started the game strong but gave up two goals in the second to a game 7 specialist Justin Williams. Dan Boyle would give the Sharks hope in the third with his rocket from the point but a rock solid performance by Jonathan Quick kept the puck from reaching the back of the net.
The first period was a battle of wills. Every square of ice was prime real estate as both teams kept tight checking, allowing very little to get through to either Niemi or Quick. Defence played a critical role for both teams, shots that did come through were from the point with the Sharks Matt Irwin and the Kings Slava Voynov sending good looks to the net. Early game theatrics came in the form of two back to back high-sticking calls to San Jose’s Joe Thornton and LA’s Jeff Carter. Even with the extra ice created on the 4 on 4, both teams managed only a combined 8 shots on net for the first period with the Sharks ahead with 5.
Early in the second, Logan Couture came in on the backhand, but Jonathan Quick was there to snap it up and left Couture shaking his head in disbelief. A series of bad plays in the Sharks offensive zone gave LA the room they needed. Brent Burns would leave the ice for an interference call putting LA on the power play. Slava Voynov, who has been phenomenal in the playoff run for LA, drove the puck through traffic from the point where it found Justin Williams on the doorstep. A nice bounce over Niemi’s outstretched leg gave the Kings the critical first goal of the game.
The goal by Williams seemed to rattle the Sharks, as chaos ensued for the next few minutes. An ill-timed line change by San Jose left LA with a 4 on 2 rush with Kopitar and Williams flying through center. Again Voynov had the feed to Kopitar who passed it to Williams, quick off the tape and there it sat behind Niemi, 2-0. Another penalty by Bracken Kearns would give the Kings another opportunity. Justin Williams nearly walked away with a natural hat trick as the puck again found his stick, but this time Niemi was there to shut the door. The Sharks would regroup to drive Quick’s net, but nothing would find home, sending San Jose into the locker room with a large hill to climb in the 3rd period.
The third period opened with matching penalties on Adam Burish for goaltender interference and a diving call on Jonathan Quick. As Burish collided with Quick, his stick caught the netminder’s chest and chin, perhaps warranting his Oscar-worthy reaction to the play, but put the teams 4 a side for the next 2 minutes. The Sharks got to work and Dan Boyle slapped one home after good pressure from Patrick Marleau down low led to a turnover by the Kings, giving it to San Jose’s Pavelski for the assist. The Sharks kept up the pressure, racking up shots to the net. The final 90 seconds was a flurry of Shark activity in the Kings zone with Niemi pulled for the extra skater. Pavelski took a shot right on Quick’s doorstep but failed to give it enough of a flick to go up and over Quick’s glove, a bitter end to the game and the Sharks season.
Both teams brought everything they had to the series. The Sharks struck gold with the Thornton, Galiardi and Burns line. Logan Couture demonstrated his versatility and shone as a true future leader of the team. Niemi recorded his best playoff run in net and the young defensive core of Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Justin Braun and rookie Matt Irwin paired well with the wisdom of Boyle and Hannan. The Kings had the confidence of Jonathan Quick in net and a deeper pool of talent for secondary scoring, particularly from former Manchester Monarchs Slava Voynov and Tyler Toffoli stepping up when it came to the crunch. In the end, these two teams battled tooth and nail for every goal, but it would be the LA Kings that earned one more to move them past the Sharks and into the Western Conference final for a second year in a row.