Sharks still in control vs. Kings, but two key questions remain
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — The Los Angeles Kings have stared down playoff elimination twice without blinking.
With two more wins over the San Jose Sharks, they would become the fourth team in NHL history to rally from an 0-3 deficit to win a postseason series.
Jeff Carter still isn’t impressed.
”It’s been done before,” the high-scoring forward said Sunday at the Kings’ training complex. ”We’re halfway there. Halfway up the mountain.”
Guys with Stanley Cup rings are difficult to dazzle in the first round of the playoffs, but Los Angeles has still made things awfully interesting on the way to Game 6 on Monday night at Staples Center.
With two straight decisive wins after three mediocre games to start the series, the Kings are demonstrating why they’ve been such a good playoff team for the past few years.
And with every failure to close out what could have been a tidy sweep just a few days ago, the Sharks are pouring a bit more cement on their reputation for coming up short in the spring.
After two horrific games in San Jose and an overtime loss in Game 3, the Kings are back on track.
”We’re a lot better than those first three games,” said forward Tyler Toffoli, who scored the Kings’ first goal in Game 5. ”We’ve got to keep moving forward. We’re still climbing. We’re still down here.”
Los Angeles is a formidable puck-possession team with the NHL’s stingiest defense, and both aspects of its game were in full effect during the Kings’ 3-0 win in Game 5 on Saturday night, silencing the Tank early and pushing that sliver of doubt further into the Sharks’ minds.
”It was disappointing for sure that we didn’t play better in front of our home crowd with what we had in front of us, an opportunity to close out a series,” Sharks forward Logan Couture said Sunday.
”But we’ve still got an opportunity going into L.A. to do the same thing. We know it’s going to be difficult, so we’re going to need to be a lot better.”
The Sharks could be without key defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who didn’t practice Sunday after getting injured in the first period of Game 5.
Coach Todd McLellan wasn’t certain Sunday whether Vlasic would make the trip south, adding another complication to an increasingly awkward situation.
”We’re still in the driver’s seat,” said McLellan, who hasn’t taken the Sharks to the Stanley Cup finals during six straight playoff seasons. ”We like where we’re at. … I still think we have a great opportunity in front of us. We’re in the same situation that Chicago and Anaheim and a lot of other teams are in. We’ve earned the right to be ahead, and now we have to make good on it.”
McLellan also might contemplate a goalie change after Antti Niemi was pulled from his second straight game. Alex Stalock has played well in Niemi’s place for most of the season, but Niemi has won 35 postseason games and a Stanley Cup title over the past five seasons.
Stalock made his playoff debut in Game 4, and he doesn’t see a wavering in the Sharks’ will.
”We’re all professionals here,” Stalock said. ”It’s your job. It’s a series, and we have a lot of guys in here that have been in this situation.”
Jonathan Quick was back in Conn Smythe Trophy form in the other net for Game 5, posting his eighth career playoff shutout after giving up 16 goals in the first three games.
In an NHL postseason with remarkably few impressive goaltending performances, the Kings are hoping Quick is still a world-beater in their next elimination game.
Although Quick was sharp, the Sharks likely gave their worst effort of the series in Game 5 with a chance to earn a significant rest between series. They weren’t quite sure why it happened, but they realize a win in Game 6 can erase every concern.
”The speed factor that we need to be successful was non-existent, really,” McLellan said. ”Our execution and our puck support was poor. It played into their hands. Give them credit. They came and played a real good game. We have to respond now.”