Photo credit: Aaron Poole/Bernstein Associates
On Saturday night, the Kings‘ young guns were the talk of the game after LA’s victory over San Jose. On Monday night, however, the veterans carried the team to victory, particularly one Clutch right-winger, who, unsurprisingly, got the game winning goal–again.
Following losses in their last two games due to slow starts, Sharks’ Coach Todd McLellan decided to start rookie goaltender Alex Stalock instead of Antti Niemi. It screamed panic move but in reality, goaltending had little to do with the predicament the Sharks were in so the move was probably going to make little difference. Save for a key moment in the third period, it looked like the change would pay off.
Most of the game was as tight and intense as previously expected. The Sharks definitely came ready to play, but the stubborn Kings refused to back down. After a hotly contested first five minutes, Drew Doughty was afforded ample time and space along the left-wing boards. He threw the puck at the net and Justin Williams tipped it in. The two teams spent the rest of the period trading some chances, getting few shots on goal and mostly locked in a dead heat.
In the second period, the Kings took three penalties in a row. First Robyn Regehr took an interference minor, Jarret Stoll was nailed for high sticking on the PK and that was followed by a Doughty high sticking penalty. The Kings were excellent on the 5-on-3. They didn’t prevent many shots, but they did block a lot and allowed Jonathan Quick to get clean looks.
Tie game. The next goal would obviously be huge. The first ten minutes of the third period were pretty even, with the ice slightly tilted in San Jose’s favor. Then Williams broke the stalemate with a controversial goal.
At first it appeared as though the puck was still loose, which allowed Williams to jam away at it. But on the replay, it seemed as though Stalock had covered it and got pushed into the net. The Situation Room reviewed the play and deemed it a good goal.
Williams’s goal came with 8:04 left in the game. However, the Kings didn’t give San Jose any time to regroup. Roughly 90 seconds later, Anze Kopitar tipped the puck in on a 3-on-2 and then drew a hooking call on Tommy Wingels. It only took 45 seconds on the ensuing power play before Kopitar scored.
Tension between the teams had been high to that point. Things got chippier as Logan Couture took on Mike Richards. Both received fighting majors and left the game. Twelve seconds later, Raffi Torres tried to take out Williams with a clean, legal body check, but missed and dragged him down to the ice. Williams didn’t appreciate that so he took a couple of shots at Torres. Both men received 10 minute misconducts and roughing minors.
The animosity cooled for a few minutes until Joe Thornton pushed Doughty down in front of his own net. The ref was about to assess a minor penalty on Thornton when Quick went after him. The boiling point had officially been reached.
(Skip to 9:13 for the Couture/Richards scrum and 10:08 for the last fight)
During this time, several sections were chanting “Quick!” exuberantly. Sorting out the penalties took far longer than it would have to play the rest of the game. It took over five minutes before the referees were ready to continue and somehow the Kings ended up with an extra power play. Both teams combined for nearly 100 PIM, including five 10-minute misconducts and four fighting majors.
Whew. It was quite the game by the end.
Some abbreviated notes:
It was an interesting night for both teams as the ice conditions were pretty terrible. Due to recent warm weather, humidity in the building was up, which caused the puck to bounce a lot. Neither team was able to cleanly handle the puck for long stretches as the ice quality deteriorated.
In his first NHL playoff start, Alex Stalock was fantastic. He exuded a calm, confident demeanor and kept his team in the game. He didn’t seem to ever get too scrambly out or of position. He went toe-to-toe with Jonathan Quick, who was great in his own right. It’ll be interesting to see who Todd McLellan chooses to go with for Game 7, where winner takes all. Does he choose long time veteran Antti Niemi or rock solid rookie, Alex Stalock? My guess (based on nothing at all) is that he goes back to Stalock.
The Kings have become only the ninth team in history to force a Game 7 after being down three games in the series. They will try to become only the fourth team to come back and win the series. There are two things that will be key to their success: the first is Jonathan Quick.
After posting a save percentage below .900, Quick has rebounded and is playing up to the level of expectation.
Quick is 3-0 in the last three games with a 1.33 GAA and .958 spct
— LAKingsPR (@LAKingsPR) April 29, 2014
The other key will be team discipline, especially in staying out of the penalty box. San Jose has an absolutely lethal power play and the Kings will have an uphill battle if their PK is over abused. Case in point, this chart from Extra Skater.
When they got into penalty trouble during the second period (as noted by the long, flat grey line), San Jose was able to pepper LA with several quality shots.
But team discipline goes beyond just avoiding penalties. It means staying focused, supporting each other (especially Quick) and working together as a five man unit while they’re on the ice.
If San Jose wants to move on to Round 2, they have to simplify their game and stay focused. For two periods on Monday night, it looked as though they would be able to finish the series and return home winners. However, adversity caused them to lose their cool. They got caught up playing in LA’s defensive system and a victory on home ice will need to include supreme discipline.
Ultimately, Wednesday will come down to the goaltenders. Whoever emerges from this battle will be bloody and bruised but could have a mental edge on Anaheim.
Yet, if anyone has the Will to Win, the LA Kings might just be able to steal this series.