Game 5 appeared to be all systems go for the San Jose Sharks. Not only were they back on home ice, but they were coming off back-to-back wins on the road and held a 3-1 series lead.
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The Sharks beat Los Angeles Kings netminder Jonathan Quick six times in each of those games and looked to have rediscovered the scoring touch that earned them the No. 2 seed.
But Saturday night in San Jose, Quick bounced back with the finest playoff performance of his career. While he didn’t come away with the shutout as he did in Game 2, Quick turned away 51 of 52 shots as the Kings staved off elimination with a 3-1 victory.
During his 34-save shutout performance in Game 2, Quick not only got better defensive play in front of him, but the Sharks also didn’t generate the same level of scoring chances when they had the opportunity to do so.
Make no mistake about it, the 51-save performance on Saturday night was by far Quick’s best of the series and it has given the Kings a glimmer of hope as the series shifts back to LA for Game 6.
"He was spectacular. You make 51 saves in a playoff game, not too many goalies can do that," said Sharks center Logan Couture, who was denied on a point-blank scoring chance in the third period.
Patrick Marleau agreed, saying Quick "made tons of great saves" but also added, "Maybe [we needed] a little more traffic in front."
The Sharks got more than their fair share of quality chances throughout the contest and just couldn’t find a way to overcome an early 3-0 deficit.
Goals by Wayne Simmonds, Kyle Clifford and Dustin Penner in a span of 5:06 had given the Kings a 3-0 lead just 8:42 into the first period.
"We were going, we had our legs," said San Jose’s Ryane Clowe. "Then bang-bang, a couple of turnovers and you have to score four, five goals to win a game."
Unfortunately for Clowe and the Sharks, there wouldn’t be another miracle comeback in the cards this time around. While San Jose came back from down 4-0 to win 6-5 in Game 3, Quick simply would not let it happen with his team on the brink of elimination.
"At the end of the day, he’s the difference," Kings coach Terry Murray said. "He’s the reason we’re still alive in this series."
Over the last three games one could argue the Sharks have clearly been the dominant team. Despite failing to win Saturday, they are going back to a building where they just won twice.
On the flip side, one has to wonder about the Sharks’ goaltending situation. Neither of the first two goals allowed by Antti Niemi in Game 5 was clearly his fault. However, Penner’s goal on a wrister from between the circles is definitely one the Niemi would like to have back.
Game 5 was also the second contest in the series in which Niemi has been pulled, only to see backup Antero Niittymaki play well in relief. Niittymaki turned away all 18 shots he faced Saturday and has allowed just one goal on 30 shots faced.
Through five games, the Sharks have been outscored 8-1 in the first period. That’s something that could be worrisome, considering that in four of the five games, the team that has scored first has won.
Niemi has appeared to be a bit rattled when goals have gotten by him early. While Sharks coach Todd McLellan went back to Niemi as his starter for Game 4 after pulling him in Game 3, the decision about a Game 6 starter is undoubtedly a tougher one.
The Sharks have proven they have the deeper team in the series, but individual mistakes have come back to bite them in their two losses.
Combine that with the fact that the Sharks’ second-ranked regular-season power-play has converted just twice in 19 chances in the playoffs and the door is open for the Kings to take advantage.
So while the Sharks appear to be the more effective team, the Kings are still capable of pulling off the upset if the Sharks don’t improve.
Thanks to Quick, there is now even less room for error.