The San Jose Sharks have far too much respect for the Los Angeles Kings and all they have accomplished the past few years to think that knocking them out of the playoffs would be easy.
After missing out on their first chance to eliminate the Kings, the task for the Sharks now is to finish the job at home in Game 5 on Saturday night and avoid getting into a long, grueling series that could take a toll later in the playoffs.
"We shouldn’t be comfortable," coach Todd McLellan said Friday. "We should feel good about what we’ve accomplished to this point, but we shouldn’t feel comfortable. Last night should push us a little bit more."
After controlling the play for much of the first three games of the series, the Sharks found themselves on the short end in Game 4 and lost 6-3. They let Los Angeles control the area around both goals and committed a few needless penalties, including one by Raffi Torres that led to a power-play goal.
But there is no sense of panic around the Sharks, especially with the series returning to San Jose where they have won 12 of the past 13 meetings against Los Angeles, including five in the past two postseasons.
"I don’t know why we would be nervous or be like, ‘Oh boy, we need to win,’" defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic said. "We’re up 3-1, and we can close it out at home tomorrow. So we’re in a great situation and guys will be ready to play tomorrow."
The home team has won 19 of the past 21 games between these two heated rivals although the Sharks did mange to break through in Game 3 when Patrick Marleau’s overtime goal gave them a 4-3 victory.
But the Kings responded Thursday night with help from a better performance from goalie Jonathan Quick, who allowed 16 goals in the first three games, and some juggled lines.
"They played a good game," McLellan said. "You have to give them credit and tip your hat to them. They were better than we were in areas, and we have get back to being the better team if we want to be successful."
Captain Dustin Brown moved up to the top line with Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik. Gaborik responded with two goals and Brown got his first two points of the series with an assist on the first goal and an empty-net goal to cap the game.
Justin Williams dropped down to play alongside Jarret Stoll and Dwight King and scored twice, giving the Kings the lead for good in the third period.
"I just think our whole level of play has gotten better since the first two games, but we’ve dug ourselves a big hole here to try and get out of," Williams said. "We’ll see if we can."
Now McLellan must decide whether to make any changes to his lines, such as moving Joe Pavelski back from first-line wing to third-line center like he did for long stretches in Games 2 and 3, or just rely on having the last change on home ice to counter Los Angeles’ moves.
The series has been physical from the start but things started to turn nasty late in Game 4 with a number of post-whistle scrums, including a fight after the final horn between San Jose’s Brent Burns and Los Angeles’ Robyn Regehr.
"Things were ugly there," Los Angeles forward Kyle Clifford said. "We’re both big teams, physical teams, so it’s definitely going to get a little wound up at times."
That intensity will also likely carry over into the crowd, where the Shark Tank should be at its loudest with the opportunity to see the home team possibly knock out it’s most hated rival.
"We’ve got to be ready, especially for the start of that game, the first 10 minutes," Stoll said. "Everybody says it. It’s true. You’ve got to weather the storm, you’ve got to take the game to them right away, and get them on their heels."