Photo credit: AP Photo/Tony Avelar
Game 7. Do or die. Win and you move on; lose and you go home. This is the time when the superstars have to step up and prove why they’re some of the best players in the world. For the Kings, their best players managed to edge out San Jose‘s as they emerged victors in this series.
The game was definitely a goaltending duel as predicted. Sharks’ Antti Niemi was sharp and made some big saves that kept the game close. At the other end of the rink, Kings’ Jonathan Quick went save for save, allowing only one goal on which he was screened.
Quick’s save of the game (series, really) came in the second period when he robbed Patrick Marleau of a sure power play goal.
Here’s another look because I find it incredible.
For his troubles, he suffered some abuse from teammate Jarret Stoll.
Stoll: You stopped that?
Stoll: Way to go, buddy [chest thump]
(OK, I know he didn’t actually, but I find this funny anyway.)
It was a tightly played game that really could have gone either way. Without Quick’s stellar performance in net, especially while his teammates decided to throw a penalty parade and march to the box several times throughout the second period, San Jose would be moving on instead of LA. For an example of how on his game Quick was, here’s a GIF from the first period.
He was prepared to make those two saves in tight. Amazing. He was feeling good last night which enabled his teammates to find their game and capitalize on the few opportunities that the Sharks afforded them.
That’s not to discount Niemi, who was great as well. After having a questionable start to the series, he really picked up his game and was not the cause for the loss in this game (or any others in the series).
As has been previously established (multiple times by the media), the Kings became only the fourth team to win after being down three games to none and were only the ninth team to force a Game 7. They join the Philadelphia Flyers (2010), New York Islanders (1975) and the Toronto Maple Leafs (1942) in the history books.
Following Game 6 in Los Angeles, Justin Williams told reporters, “We want to be a team that came back all the way. We don’t want to be a team that said we forced a Game 7. We want to be able to win it. Now we gave ourselves a chance.”
Despite being down three games, there seemed to be an unspoken confidence. During their interviews, players appeared frustrated but not dejected. They were down, but never out. While it would be easy to turn tail and give up, that thought probably never crossed any of their minds.
Dustin Brown backed up his teammate’s sentiment about remaining steadfast. “We’ve been inside this room, it’s our belief system in ourselves and in each other, more importantly. Being down 3-0 is definitely not where we wanted to be, but I don’t think we ever lost hope that we couldn’t pull it together.”
There’s something to be said about having a championship mentality. Even though they went on a record-breaking run to the Stanley Cup in 2012, the team has retained the understanding of what it takes to be winners. The no defeatist attitude that was prevalent in the lineup back then is still there today. When faced with adversity, the team takes it as a challenge to be better. This no-quit mindset helped the Kings claw their way back into the series when it seemed like the proverbial Fat Lady was warming up her pipes.
After the Game 7 win, Justin Williams spoke of the trust the guys have in each other. “I look around my room here, and it feels like it oozes confidence. It’s something that you can’t really touch. It’s like an intangible, and I feel that when push comes to shove, these guys are going to show up, and we’re going to show up, and we’re going to make a difference and win a big game.”
You can’t win without your best players being their best and Williams is one of them. His record remains perfect in five career Game 7 appearances. In his first four experiences, he posted five goals, four assists and nine points. While he did not pot a goal on Wednesday night, he did set up Anze Kopitar‘s second period game winning goal. He was also one of the best players on the ice in all four elimination games that the Kings faced.
#Fancystats Don’t Lie
Possession is the name of the game and there is none better than the Kings at disproportionately keeping the puck away from their opponents. But the Sharks are very close in possession time to their SoCal rivals. This series saw some interesting and weird things out of both teams. The first two games were extremely out of character for the Kings where they allowed 13 goals and couldn’t seem to maintain any kind possession, let alone zone time. Game 3 was a complete heartbreaker for LA as they got back to playing their game of keep away while Games 4 and 5 saw a mirror image of Games 1 and 2.
By the end of Game 7, the final Corsi and Fenwick numbers were in. Possession time (overall) for both teams was relatively close. But LA’s lack of discipline kept San Jose in most games and affected the overall shot attempts. According to Jewels from the Crown, through the first five games, San Jose was generating 71.7 shots per 60 minutes of power play time, which was good for third best in the playoffs. But when the game shifted to 5-on-5, the two teams were separated by only half a percent (SJ 59.2%, LA 49.8%) in fenwick for, which is the measure of all shot attempts excluding blocked shots. Their corsi for numbers (which is the same as fenwick and includes blocked shots) has LA ahead by about 3% (LA 51.7%, SJ 48.3%) are slightly farther apart, but this likely means the Sharks blocked more shots than the Kings.
In the end, LA’s red hot power play made a difference while their penalty kill was able to hold San Jose off over the last four games. The last two games were incredibly close and really could’ve gone either way as shown by Extra Skater‘s fenwick chart.
Game-by-game Fen close shows how absurdly tight LA-SJ was. And that SJ didn’t choke–played fine in games 6 and 7. pic.twitter.com/IRO1HAJW5W
— Andrew Lifland (@andrewlifland) May 1, 2014
What should’ve been a matchup for the Western Conference Final resulted in a heartbreaking first round exit for one team and a thrilling comeback victory for the other.