(Photo credit: UPI/Bill Greenblatt)
Going into the playoffs, the Kings appeared to be contenders. All the signs were there: They were the best possession team in the NHL during the regular season, disproportionately keeping the puck away from opponents in over 60 games while losing the possession battle only 18 times. They were also the best defensive team, allowing the fewest goals, which earned them the Jennings Trophy.
None of that means anything, though, as they fell 4-3 in overtime to San Jose on Tuesday night and the Sharks took a 3-0 series lead. The Kings came oh so close but just couldn’t quite pull it off.
After the first two games that were a huge mess, the Kings were much better in the third game. They played deliberately, their passes were crisper, team defense overall was much sharper and even Jonathan Quick was fantastic. They finally looked like the Kings of old only to be undone by a little misfortune and poor discipline.
Brent Burns got a fortunate bounce while on the power play as Joe Thornton’s initial shot hit Kings defenseman Robyn Regehr in the foot and rolled over to Burns who mostly fanned on a one timer that knuckled and beat Quick. They were down early, but this time, the Kings put on their big boy pants and refused to go quietly into the night.
Early in the second with the Kings on the power play, Doughty connected with Tyler Toffoli who sent a slick, no-look, cross-ice pass to Jarret Stoll for a one-timer that beat Niemi high.
Marian Gaborik decided he wanted in on the goal scoring action and scored a gorgeous goal off the rush. It’s something the Kings fans aren’t familiar with seeing happen. Well usually it’s happening TO the team, but not FOR them. Martinez and Brown teamed up for a defensive zone turnover, gave the puck to Gaborik who went 175 feet and blew the puck past Niemi. It was great. The celebration brought out this GIF below (stick tap Thx Bud).
But fortune was not on LA’s side. As hard as they were working, the Sharks had an answer for everything. Regehr was battling in front of the net with Sharks forward Logan Couture when they got tangled up and he fell on top of Quick who was unable to get up in time to stop Matt Nieto’s tip.
At the end of the second, the Sharks took a penalty. Gaborik could’ve basically set up shop and sold sandwiches with the amount of time he had alone in front of Niemi but his shot struck iron. Both teams went into the break tied at two and the Kings started with 58 seconds of power play time in the third.
While on the power play, Jeff Carter tipped in Anze Kopitar’s shot. The puck hit Carter’s stick, hopped over Niemi’s shoulder, fell over the line and rolled into the back of the net.
Credit the Sharks for not giving up as they pressed for an equalizer. They outshot the Kings 23-3 following Carter’s goal and 28-8 overall that period. Just over halfway, Alec Martinez was nailed for a weak hooking call. In the dying seconds of the power play, Quick stopped the initial shot but his teammates were unable to corral the rebound and Tomas Hertl, who had four good whacks at the puck, cleaned up the garbage.
Tied AGAIN. It didn’t appear that the Kings were going to be catching any kind of break.
Stoll took an undisciplined interference penalty with just over two minutes to go but Kings survived into overtime. They controlled the majority of the play during OT but as the theme has been so far, things were not going their way. Six minutes in, Slava Voynov tipped Patrick Marleau’s weak shot over a screened Quick’s shoulder and San Jose went back to their hotel happy winners. Oh, and that was San Jose’s only shot in the period, too.
it wasn’t a lack of grit or skill or anything. they ran over their own goalie and a puck deflected two inches the wrong way twice
— Nick Chapin (@dightkwing) April 23, 2014
When you’re a good team, bounces will go your way. It’s been a very frustrating season for the Kings as bounces have literally not gone their way. Fluke goals and bad calls on top of a sudden inability to score made for an adverse season. Kings fans were hoping and praying that with the frustrating way the season has gone and the great trade with Columbus, history would repeat itself and the eventual result would be like that of 2012.
Sadly, this is not the Kings’ year. With the addition of Gaborik on Kopitar’s wing and rookie call ups Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli, the team looked deep and dangerous following the trade deadline. That is, until you look at their defense. Oh sure there’s Drew Doughty, only one of the best defensemen in the world; Slava Voynov, who is no slouch; Jake Muzzin, who is a puck possession machine; and Alec Martinez, a very underrated puck mover. But then there’s Robyn Regehr, Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene who are 30+, slow and are absolutely getting killed.
“The Sharks are specifically targeting the slow-footed defensemen on the Kings back end and are having their way with them. In game one, Regehr was paired with Voynov and got destroyed. In game two, it was Mitchell and Mitchell’s underlying numbers over the first two games have been woeful.” I extracted this from a post that Robert P. posted Monday on Jewels from the Crown.
The harsh reality is that the Kings’ aging veterans are now hindering them rather than helping them. The model of defensive defenseman is going away as young puck movers take their place. The slow, lumbering muscle man who is only good for rimming the puck around the glass is being phased out for guys that have more footspeed, are better at executing the breakout and can jump up into the rush.
While there is a very real likelihood that the Kings will be swept, Coach Sutter promised that his stubborn, resilient team that took last year’s eventual Stanley Cup Champions to double overtime in Game 5 with full belief that they could pull it out and win, hasn’t given up yet. “It’s a tough hill, and we won’t go quietly away, that’s for sure.”
The team will rely heavily on the leadership of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter who were on the Philadelphia Flyers squad that came from a 3-0 hole against the Boston Bruins in 2010. The Flyers are one of only three teams in history to come back from such a deficit and win. When asked about that experience, Richards told reporters, “Just play each game and don’t worry about what’s ahead of you. We just have to have a mindset of winning the next game and going from there.”
LA hopes to build off their best game of the series so far as they try to stave off elimination and perhaps, even, pull off a miracle. Should the impossible happen, the odds are stacked against them as San Jose has done an excellent job at exposing LA’s weaknesses, particularly on defense. Yet, as Darryl Sutter intoned, “You don’t get nothin’ for three.” It’ll be difficult, but nothing is truly impossible if you want it badly enough.