Just two days removed from the Staples shocker in Game 3, the San Jose Sharks seized command of the series with a 6-3 blowout. Although many fans were still enjoying the incredible Game 3 comeback win, the Sharks had no such luxury against a determined Los Angeles Kings team in Game 4.
As head coach Todd McLellan eluded to in pregame comments, today was a new day and yesterday’s win was just win number two of 16.
To no one’s surprise, Antti Niemi returned in net for San Jose after being pulled in a forgettable Game 3 performance. Powered by the San Jose depth and his clutch goaltending, the Sharks dismantled Jonathan Quick and the Kings in Game 4.
Coming into the series, many experts had predicted a hard-fought, tightly contested string of one goal games between the two rivals. Surprisingly, the series has been filled with offensive pyrotechnics and, at times, wide-open hockey.
Game 4 certainly lived up to its hard-fought billing, as the Kings fought back valiantly but couldn't answer to the Sharks depth and skill.
San Jose now heads home with a commanding lead, looking for the tough fourth win to close out the Kings in five.
After putting up two consecutive poor starts to the game, the San Jose Sharks focused on playing their game in the early going. Starting out on the right foot, San Jose didn't disappoint as the Sharks carried play in the Kings zone for long stretches in the first period.
Dustin Brown let his emotions get the best of him as he took the slashing penalty at 7:56 of the first period. Jason Demers has been throwing his body around in this series and delivered a huge hip check leading up to the penalty.
With the Sharks taking play to the Kings, Greene gave the Sharks a 5-3 lead by taking another slashing minor at 8:34. Jonathan Quick looked sharp during the Sharks two-man advantage, turning away all seven shots and seeing the puck very well.
Dan Boyle continued his early struggles, by coughing the puck up to Wayne Simmonds deep in the Sharks zone. Uncharacteristic of Boiler, but up to the task was Antti Niemi who once again saved the Sharks from themselves in their end.
After the ticky-tack call for Boyle for hooking Simmonds on the short breakaway, the Sharks much-maligned penalty kill rose up and aggressively neutralized LA. The PK unit had more work to do, with Ian White taking a tripping penalty at 14:13 on Dustin Brown, giving the Kings a brief 5-3.
Again, the Sharks special teams rose up to kill off both penalties and closed out the first period in a scoreless tie.
Los Angeles controlled play early in the second period, before the emotions bubbled over from the first period. Scott Nichol suckered Drew Doughty into a retaliation play, but both players were called for roughing as LA’s leading defenseman headed off ice.
Just 30 seconds later, Alec Martinez knocked the Ryane Clowe rebound into his own net, taking the wind out of the Kings’ sails. The Sharks seized momentum, and just two minutes later Jason Demers added to the lead.
Taking the backhanded pass from Logan Couture, Demers jumped up into the play and put home the goal putting the Sharks ahead 2-0.
Matt Greene drew the double-minor at 6:00 in the second, and Ryane Clowe cashed in a Couture rebound at 9:28 putting the Sharks ahead 3-0.
The Kings took a timeout and responded after a horrible turnover by Niclas Wallin, allowing Richardson to float in on the empty net for the score.
A powerplay on the Justin Williams tripping penalty at 12:14 gave the Sharks their fourth man advantage in the game. Sharks power play was disjointed and lacked the hustle shown in the first period as the penalty expired.
Justin Williams brought the Kings within a goal, putting the puck off of Marc-Edouard Vlasic at 16:04 of the second.
Antti Niemi stonewalled the Kings attack late in the second period, making several huge shots. Joe Thornton pushed the Sharks ahead 4-2 at 11:42 of the third period on a terrific feed from Kyle Wellwood.
Joe Pavelski pushed the lead to three, deflecting the puck past Jonathan Quick on a great shot-pass from Dan Boyle at 3:22. Torrey Mitchell recorded his first postseason point, backhanding home the loose rebound for the 6-2 score.
Alexei Ponikarovsky tipped the point slapshot at 13:11 to bring the Kings within three, but Antti Niemi closed the door late on some golden Kings scoring chances. The Kings could not solve Antti and, as he did in Game 1, Niemi was extraordinary in saving San Jose when they needed it most.
Antti Niemi recorded 35 saves, posting a .921 save percentage and another playoff rebound win in his young career.
Antti Niemi: Niemi was strong throughout the game, playing as well as he has since Jan 15. He continues to make the incredible save look routine, and his confidence looks as good as ever. He was sharp in the first, incredible in the second through overlapping minors, and dominant in the third to close out the game.
Ryane Clowe: He's been as clutch as any player for the Sharks late this season and continues to answer the call in the playoffs. He leads the team in plus/minus and hits, as well as scoring four goals in the series.
The fourth line: Much was made coming into the contest about the fourth line and their bad game in Game 3. Often times dominated in the early going of Game 3, they responded with a huge game and Nichol played strong. He came up big against the Kings tonight, drawing penalties, taking Doughty out of his game and winning some key draws late.
Penalty kill: A very aggressive penalty killing effort gave the Sharks some chances throughout the game and kept the Kings to the outside. Including the brief Kings 5-3 in the second, the Sharks much-maligned penalty kill had an excellent performance, making several key stops.
Crashing the net: Almost all the goals coming from rebounds, loose pucks or crashing the net, the Sharks are getting back to basics and finding their way. San Jose solved Quick with the off-angle shot passes and deflection plays tonight, but need to avoid falling back into old habits.
Sharks consistency on the powerplay: The unit struggled after the 3-0 lead and the Sharks let off the gas a little bit, allowing the Kings to come back within one.
It gave the Kings life as they recorded nine straight shots to close the second period; a trait that can’t continue against the likes of Detroit.
Dany Heatley: Heater is still broken for San Jose and, despite some flashes of effort, he's just not there right now and his late slew foot penalty is just not smart hockey. He's got to bounce back for San Jose to have a truly dangerous top 9 group and make a deep playoff run.
Ben Eager: Another game, another minute of ice time for the Sharks fourth line winger, and something doesn't look good about his play. After taking just three shifts in the first period, Todd McLellan sat Eager and gave him just one shift late in the third.
The ever difficult fourth victory looms ahead, and the Sharks have to keep their noses to the grindstone to close out the Kings. Returns to home ice haven't always favored San Jose, and they will get the Kings' best effort to stave off elimination.
The consistency could use some work, but it's hard to find fault in how the Sharks are playing right now. As tremendous as the comeback victory in Game 3 was, it's clear the loss seems to have affected the Kings and the Sharks sense blood.
This Kings team is still plenty dangerous, and the Stoll-Smyth-Williams line is still a concern, but the Sharks have taken a commanding lead in the series. The manner in which the team responded in the third to close out this game was an awesome response to shut down LA.
The Sharks now head home to the friendly confines of HP Pavilion, looking to advance to the Red Wings who just sent Phoenix packing. While it figures to be a tough game, the Sharks will take care of business and look to send the Kings home in five.