The Los Angeles Kings completed an historic comeback, becoming the fourth team ever to rally from a 3-0 series deficit in the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs by defeating the San Jose Sharks 5-1 on Wednesday at the SAP Center in San Jose.
KINGS HAVE DONE IT! LA beats San Jose, 5-1, becoming 4th team in NHL history to come back from 3-0 series deficit. pic.twitter.com/tm9xo90kGo— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 1, 2014
Much of the thanks from the L.A. faithful has to go to goalie Jonathan Quick, who was a giant human brick that the Sharks couldn't penetrate more than once despite the imploring of their home fans. Now the Kings move on to face the Anaheim Ducks in the second round, marking their second straight clash with a Western Conference club hailing from the Golden State.
NHL.com's John Kreiser heaped high and deserved praise on Quick for his extraordinary effort, as he stopped 39 of 40 shots:
This might be best game Quick has played for L.A. since he led #Kings to Cup two years ago.— John Kreiser (@jkreiser77nhl) May 1, 2014
Steve Mears of NHL Network had a strong reaction, too, and it was difficult to dispute his assessment after Quick's phenomenal showcase in the ultimate clutch situation:
One of the many big saves Quick made came at a momentous juncture in the second period, where San Jose had the chance to seize a 2-1 lead. Quick was having none of it, denying Patrick Marleau right on the doorstep, as captured by Kings Vision:
ESPN's Pierre LeBrun noted the reaction from the victorious Kings as they trotted triumphant into the locker room:
Standing near Kings room. Kings players over the moon as they come off the ice. "This building is quiet now baby!" yelled one Kings player— Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) May 1, 2014
Silence, stunted momentum and an inability to light the lamp were themes for the Sharks all night long, as they were frustrated time and again, especially on the power play. San Jose snapped off 29 shots in the first two periods, with only Matt Irwin's goal less than one minute into the second getting through.
But at least the hosts drew first blood, which gave them hope of avoiding an all-time collapse. Unfortunately, five unanswered goals ensued from there, beginning with Drew Doughty's equalizer on the power play at 4:57.
That prompted TSN's Bryan Hayes to label Doughty among the league's best defenders in big games:
Drew Doughty the best 'big game' defenseman? Keith, Chara in the mix.— Bryan Hayes (@HayesTSN) May 1, 2014
Kings star Justin Williams spoke about how his club wasn't thinking about the almost unprecedented rally he and his teammates were on the cusp of pulling off before the game, per The Associated Press (via ESPN.com):
I think history is something we look at, look back when we're done playing and say, 'We did that,' but that's not really something we're thinking about. We've spotted them three games, and we've been able to come back to tie it, but it doesn't mean anything to us if we don't win it.
The focus on the task at hand was evident for the visitors throughout. They didn't panic when they went down by one goal. Heck, they were in the hole 3-0 in the series itself and weren't fazed by it. Williams backed up his talk by setting up the game-winning goal, feeding Anze Kopitar for his fourth goal of the playoffs just 1:21 before the second intermission.
ESPN LA 710's Dave Joseph pointed out just how strong Williams has been in Game 7 situations:
Justin Williams w/ an assist on Kopitar's goal. Williams now has 10 pts in Game 7's - 5g, 5a and is 4-0 all-time in Game 7's. #LAKings— Dave Joseph (@davejosephla) May 1, 2014
Tyler Toffoli added insurance at 4:40 in the third, as the Kings once again denied San Jose all its golden chances to make the game more competitive. Empty-net goals by Dustin Brown and Tanner Pearson added insult to injury on the scoreboard.
Sports personality Jim Rome did an admirable job summarizing the sentiment likely felt by Sharks fans—and those contributing to what's becoming known as a franchise that can't get it done in big games:
I have nothing against the Sharks. But given their history, and that total choke job, they really should move. Or just quit playing hockey.— Jim Rome (@jimrome) May 1, 2014
The Record's Tom Gulitti was baffled in his take about what to do about the Sharks' future:
I don't know what the answer is for the Sharks. So many playoff disappointments. If you tear it apart, takes time to get back to this point.— Tom Gulitti (@TGfireandice) May 1, 2014
How much further will the Kings advance in the playoffs?
Credit the Kings' resilience. While San Jose did blow a prohibitive advantage, it still required L.A. to get off the mat after a seemingly insurmountable deficit. They could have just rolled over after going down 3-0, but the underdogs banded together, and Quick yielded just two goals over the last three games of the series.
Something has to give in San Jose, though. With 15 playoff appearances in the past 16 seasons and not one trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in that span, the Sharks need a culture change.
Otherwise, they seem destined to be stuck with the label of a strong regular-season team that falls apart when it matters most.
It will be mighty interesting to see what gives in the Kings' next matchup with the Ducks, because Anaheim had the No. 1 scoring offense in the regular season, while LA allowed the fewest goals in the NHL.
If this series was any indication, coach Darryl Sutter's Kings seem to have the stuff of champions and should overcome inferior rest to give the Ducks all they can handle in a battle to advance to the conference finals.