From an epic comeback to a pair of six-goal outbursts to the two big road wins that gave the San Jose Sharks control of their first-round series, it was all in all a pretty successful trip to Los Angeles.
The task for the Sharks now is closing out the Kings at home in Game 5 on Saturday night and avoiding another trip to Southern California.
”When you have the opportunity to win that fourth game you have to take advantage of it,” defenseman Dan Boyle said. ”We’re at home, we don’t want to have to get back on a plane and go back there and fight for another 60-plus minutes. You want to take care of business when you can, get the extra rest. When you can put a team away, put them away.”
Most of the Sharks took the day off Friday to get some rest a day after taking a 3-1 series lead with a 6-3 victory at Staples Center. It marked the second straight six-goal game on the road against a team known for its tight defense and moved the Sharks to the brink of the second round.
San Jose had scored that many goals in a playoff game just five times in 142 postseason contests before doing it twice in a row. Despite the outburst, Kings coach Terry Murray is sticking with goaltender Jonathan Quick for Game 5.
”They have three lines that are as good as any three lines in the NHL,” Murray said. ”If we’re going to have success against them, and whenever we do have success against them, we’re playing a solid game, everyone is on the same page doing the right things with the puck and we have good defensive posture.”
The contributions have come up and down the roster as 12 players have recorded points in each of the past two games. The top line delivered the game-winning goal in overtime on Tuesday when Patrick Marleau set up Devin Setoguchi to cap just the fourth comeback ever from a four-goal deficit in a playoff game. The line also got the key goal early in the third period Thursday from Joe Thornton that made it 4-2.
Ryane Clowe has back-to-back two-goal games from the second line, where Logan Couture also scored a key goal to fuel the comeback in Game 3. Joe Pavelski got the tying goal in Game 3 and joined linemate Torrey Mitchell with a goal in the third period Thursday.
The defense has even chipped in with one goal and 11 assists the past two games, making the Sharks a very difficult team to match up with defensively.
”We’ve got three pretty sick scoring lines,” forward Scott Nichol said. ”We’ve got a threat when those guys get out there. It’s hard to check. If you have a checking line, who do you check? You’ve got to leave one of those three lines exposed. And that’s what you want in the playoffs. You don’t want just one line going or one player. We’ve got a whole unit together, pulling the same way.”
Nichol, the fourth line center, is one of the few players who didn’t record a point the past two games but found his own way to make a mark. He enticed Kings star defenseman Drew Doughty into a matching roughing penalty in the second period Thursday that led to a pair of four-on-four goals that opened the scoring.
Nichol also drew a double minor on a high stick by Matt Greene that led to a third goal, leading Murray to call him the reason the Sharks won the game.
”He’s definitely not fun to play against but he’s certainly fun to play for and with and watch,” Boyle said. ”The guy just never quits. He’s the energizer bunny out there. He was obviously a big part of the win yesterday. I don’t believe he was on the score sheet, but he was a big reason why we won and he’s just one of those guys you love to have on your team.”
The Kings will try to regain the form that led them to a 4-0 win in San Jose in Game 2 and the 4-0 lead the following game, eliminating the giveaways and other mistakes that have helped fuel the Sharks’ offense.
Despite being outscored 12-4 since taking that big lead, the Kings still have their confidence.
”We saw the things we can do to them, we have moments of domination,” Doughty said. ”We just need to clean up our D zone. If we clean that up, really focus hard on that, and just keep getting the goals we’re getting, we should be fine.”
While the Kings are trying to keep their confidence up, the message from the Sharks coaching staff was to avoid getting complacent. Coach Todd McLellan said his team struggles when the players start feeling comfortable and stop doing some of the little things such as blocking shots, managing shift length and getting the puck in deep that have made them successful.
”If we let up or take our foot off the gas pedal for any little bit it’s going to cost us,” McLellan said. ”I’d like to think we’re growing up as a team and are able to put some of those lapses behind us. Tomorrow will be a reflection on whether we’ve learned a lesson or whether we’ll be taught a lesson.”
AP freelance Jonathan Raber in El Segundo, Calif., contributed to this report.