Now that the Los Angeles Kings have made it halfway to a historic comeback, the task actually seems even more difficult now that they know how close they are.
Jonathan Quick made 30 saves to shut out San Jose for the fourth time in his career in the postseason and the Kings staved off elimination for a second straight game by beating the Sharks 3-0 on Saturday night in Game 5 of their first-round series.
"If anything, it seems a little more daunting because we came this far to get two, now we need to take two more," defenseman Drew Doughty said. "It puts more pressure on us because we can kind of smell it. We can’t get ahead of ourselves. We have a lot of work ahead of us."
Tyler Toffoli, Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter scored for the Kings, who have rebounded after losing the first three games of the series. Quick allowed 16 goals in those losses, but once again is starting to look like the goalie who stymied the Sharks in a second-round series a year ago.
Antti Niemi allowed three goals on 19 shots and got pulled for the second straight game for the Sharks. Perhaps more importantly, San Jose also lost star defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic to an upper-body injury after he was elbowed in the head by Jarret Stoll late in the first period.
"We did a lot of good things for 3 games. Tonight was red rotten," coach Todd McLellan said. "That’s simply put. When we started the series, we talked about leaving games behind, closing the book on it. There’s no doubt we’ll look at it. We have to improve. But it’s put in the bank and we’ll move on."
They may have to do it without Vlasic. He is questionable for Game 6 on Monday night in Los Angeles as the Kings are looking to become just the fourth NHL team to overcome a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series.
They finally broke through in San Jose after losing five playoff games here the past two seasons and 12 of 13 games here overall. But they will need to win here again to complete the comeback as Game 7 will be in San Jose on Wednesday, if necessary.
The Kings came out looking like a desperate team and dominated from the start against the listless Sharks, who were unable to feed off the energy from a frenzied crowd hoping to see a fierce rival get eliminated.
"We had a good start," Quick said. "We got a few shifts and we just tried to keep building on it. They came with a lot, too. They had a big pushback. It’s not easy to win against this team. They’re a great team for a reason."
Los Angeles controlled the game on the ice, the shot clock and the scoreboard to take a 2-0 lead in the first period and mostly silence the crowd. The Kings opened the scoring when Tanner Pearson outraced Vlasic to a loose puck and fed a rushing Toffoli, who patiently skated around James Sheppard and beat Niemi with a shot from the slot to make it 1-0.
The Kings made it 2-0 shortly after Joe Thornton was unable to bat a cross-ice pass from Brent Burns into an empty net. That fueled a 3-on-2 rush the other way and Kopitar knocked in a rebound of Dustin Brown’s shot.
"Usually, we have really fast starts in this building and that wasn’t the case tonight," Thornton said. "They started faster than us. Really, it’s a rarity around here. We just have to have better starts. That’s the bottom line."
The Sharks responded to a 2-0 deficit in Game 2 that deficit with seven straight goals, but it was quickly clear that would not repeat when Carter banked a shot off Brad Stuart’s skate for a power-play goal 22 seconds into the second period to end Niemi’s night.
Alex Stalock came in and stopped 22 shots, but it was too late to save the Sharks in this game although it could make McLellan consider starting him in Game 6.
"We’ll have to make some decisions throughout our lineup at every position because we weren’t obviously near good enough tonight," McLellan said.
San Jose finally showed some life late in the second period, but by then Quick was on his game, robbing Brent Burns with a pad save on the power play late in the period.
"I thought tonight was probably our best defensive game so far this series," Doughty said. "We don’t want Quicky to have to stand on his head every night. We want to play well in front of him. We want to do things to make it a little easier for him. I thought we did that tonight but when he was called upon he was huge."
NOTES: Niemi has been pulled four times in 38 playoff starts for San Jose, all against Los Angeles. … Carter has points in nine straight playoff games dating to last season.