Photo Credit: AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
Let’s get this over with.
Sorry not sorry. It was just appropriate. OK onto the recap.
First period: The LA Kings scored first then the Sharks tied it with 7.1 seconds left. It wasn’t LA’s best period and they were badly outshot for the majority of it before finding life on Marian Gaborik‘s goal. They started to close the shot gap, but San Jose had 17 shots on net by the time they tied it.
LA has a problem holding onto their leads into this series and have only gone 26:01 without allowing a goal. So naturally what would happen just about 3 1/2 minutes later is the opportunistic Sharks would tie the game. Jonathan Quick stopped Patrick Marleau‘s wrist shot but the rebound bounced out to Matt Nieto, who banked it in off Alec Martinez.
As the clock ticked down past four minutes, Williams’s hand-eye coordination was on full display as Willie Mitchell‘s shot went wide. The puck bounced off the end boards to a waiting Williams who knocked it out of midair and into an empty net.
Now the Kings were rolling. Down to the final minute. Martinez’s shot was blocked. Tyler Toffoli jumped on the rebound and his wrist shot beat a sliding Niemi. It was a fortuitous bounce in front for LA and was very similar to ones that San Jose had gotten in Game 3.
Third Period: The Kings came out strong looking to capitalize on a good second period. They did that 34 seconds in when Gaborik’s shoulder shimmy fooled Niemi and he fired a gorgeous wrister high blocker side. That ended Niemi’s night and in came backup Alex Stalock.
Just over halfway through the period, Williams nearly had a hat trick but the goal was waved off due to a Jarret Stoll cross checking penalty. It took less than 30 seconds for the Sharks to capitalize on their power play. Dan Boyle‘s shot from the top of the circles was stopped by Quick but he was unable to control the rebound and fell down. Quick attempted to get a glove on it but too many helpers and too many people in his crease allowed Joe Pavelski to get a couple whacks at the rebound and put it top shelf.
The score was now 5-3 in favor of the Kings. Still plenty of time left to be nervous with a two goal lead (especially with how recent playoff games have gone and two goal leads suddenly being extremely dangerous).
Sharks’ head coach Todd McLellan pulled Stalock with three minutes remaining in the game. With the net empty, tension in the building was palpable. Fans cheered nervously and anxious cries of “Get it out!” were heard throughout. After several failed clearing attempts, Toffoli picked off a pass, broke away for a 2-on-1 with Dustin Brown and unselfishly passed the puck to his captain, who slid it home. A wave of relief swept over the building as fans cheered even louder for their team that had just staved off being swept out of the playoffs. The Kings will live to see another day.
It was still not Quick’s or his team’s best game but there were major improvements from the previous three games. A couple of lucky bounces and a subpar goaltending performance from Niemi allowed the Kings to avoid elimination and try their hand at winning a second game in a row. However, it was a night in which LA’s top line dominated and were rewarded for their efforts while depth scoring helped out: Birthday boy Tyler Toffoli picked up a goal and an assist; Justin Williams swapped lines with Dustin Brown, moving to the third line and potted two goals; Marian Gaborik potted two goals; and the captain potted a goal and assist. Meanwhile, eight other Kings (not including those listed) were credited with at least one helper. For a team that’s been struggling generate much offense, they greatly benefited from depth scoring.
It was a highly entertaining and interesting game, much more so than the first two. It was an incredibly chippy affair throughout as the two teams combined for 74 minutes of penalties, including four fighting majors (handed out at the end of the game) and two ten minute misconducts in the first period when the ref was trying to send a message. It was a spirited battle on the ice as San Jose looked to close out the series while LA tried desperately to claw back in.
Darryl Sutter’s adjustment of the forwards worked in LA’s favor as it created more balance in the lineup. Mike Richards adds a scoring touch and drives possession on the fourth line; Dustin Brown adds a physical component to the top line with an ability to create space for his linemates and allow them more possession time; Justin Williams on the third line gives Stoll a winger who can score while Dwight King plays a similar role to Brown; on the second line, Tyler Toffoli drives possession which creates scoring opportunities for Jeff Carter and Tanner Pearson whose speed helps back off the opposition, not to mention the great chemistry he has with Toffoli that developed while they were with the Monarchs last year.
The Kings may not be pesky like the Ottawa Senators, but they’re a stubborn, resilient group who have been through a lot together. They refuse to quit and even though there are a few new faces that were not with the team in 2012, they all buy into the system. And it doesn’t hurt to have a clutch player like Mr. Game 7 Justin Williams, either.