The Los Angeles Kings are still on death row.
Avoiding a sweep at the hands of their state rival San Jose Sharks on Thursday night, the Kings managed a stay of execution. But the way the Sharks have controlled the first-round NHL playoff series to that point, you have to wonder whether it’s really possible for the Kings to be pardoned.
One more loss and they’re done. They can’t afford any mistakes.
For at least one night, however, they showed for the first time they were capable of containing the bloodthirsty Sharks.
Kings head coach Darryl Sutter was desperate following two blowout losses and an overtime defeat, so he made a major move in shuffling the lines and moving captain Dustin Brown to the top of the order with Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik. That dropped Justin Williams to the third line, and the result was a strong offensive performance.
A 6-3 victory at the Staples Center offers hope, however dim, to the Kings.
Most teams that fall behind 3-0 do it because the other team is a lot better. That's not the case in LA-SJ. Kings could win 4 in a row.— Jason Brough (@JasonPHT) April 25, 2014
In their favor is the fact they chased Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi from the game in the third period, finally exposing him as a potential weak spot after the former Stanley Cup winner solidified the Sharks net following some late-season struggles that had some questioning whether or not he’d even start in the playoffs.
Coming into the series, a big question was how the Sharks would deal with the big, physical Kings. But after three games, it was the opposite—the Kings were seeking means of answering the punishing play of role players like Raffi Torres, Mike Brown, Andrew Desjardins and top-line winger Brent Burns.
The answer, apparently, was the Sutter Shuffle.
"Hopefully it gives (us) a little size and power," Sutter told NHL.com correspondent Curtis Zupke earlier in the day. "That line, I think, when we play against (Sharks center Joe) Thornton, we've had trouble with his size. Burns and Thornton.”
Dustin Brown has a history with Kopitar as a linemate but was taken off the line by Sutter early this season.
The reunion worked. But it paid off for Williams, too, who netted his first two goals of the series while enjoying matchups against some of the Sharks’ less talented players.
Brown, though, started the Kings off on the right skate by throwing his body around and throwing the puck at the net to get the scoring going when Gaborik chipped in the rebound early in the first period.
The captain also contributed an impressive game-high 10 hits. With room to skate, Gaborik netted a second goal to make it 5-2 in the third period.
Defensively, Brown made arguably the save of the game with his stick when Joe Pavelski tried to nail the empty net in the second period with Jonathan Quick wandering. He put an exclamation point on the shift by slamming Thornton against the boards with a check and was rewarded with an empty-netter to seal the victory.
Appropriate on this night that Dustin Brown closes the show.— Dennis Bernstein (@DennisTFP) April 25, 2014
The encore was fairly fitting as well, with the Sharks looking to start some rough stuff in the dying seconds. The Kings were willing to oblige, and the stage is set for another exciting contest in San Jose. The nastiness may have fed the Kings’ appetite for the rarely seen 3-0 series comeback.
Mike Richards—who was part of one of only three in history when his Philadelphia Flyers ousted the Boston Bruins in seven games in the Eastern Conference semifinal in 2010—knows they’re still on borrowed time, but is hopeful the Kings will continue to improve.
“They’re probably a confident team, too. We’re starting to get a little bit back,” Richards told CBC’s Scott Oake in the postgame show. “There’s no way to go but up. We didn’t play very well as a team and individually. Just keep at it, it’s gonna get better because it can’t get any worse.”
“At the end of the day,” Dustin Brown told the NHL Network in a postgame scrum, “we’ve still got to clean it up.”