The San Jose Sharks had all the momentum heading into Game 5, seeking the always difficult fourth win to close out the Kings. Jonathan Quick had other ideas however as he recorded an eye-popping 52 saves en route to the 3-1 victory, keeping LA alive another day.
Antti Niemi on the other hand did not fare as well, faltering again on home ice as he did in Game 2. And as they did in Game 2, the team in front of Antti did him no favors committing several turnovers and missing several assignments.
Allowing three goals on just four shots, Niemi was yanked before the game was nine minutes old.
Antero Niittymaki made his second relief appearance in the playoffs and was very stout stopping 18 shots the rest of the way.
The loss cuts the San Jose lead to 3-2 in the series and they will have another chance to close out the Kings on Monday at the Staples Center.
Here are five things we’ve learned about the 3-1 loss, and what is next for the Sharks between the pipes.
Although Niemi was not sharp early, the Sharks continued to play hard and give a good effort. Unlike Game 2 where the team simply quit halfway through, San Jose continued to battle and finish their checks but ultimately could not solve Quick.
Outshooting and outhitting the Kings in the early going, the Sharks held a 9-4 shot advantage when Niemi was pulled. With just eight minutes to go in the first, San Jose still led 15-6 and fought hard against a Kings team content on sitting back.
Quick answered every chance the Sharks had late, including the Logan Couture's wide open chance in front of the net.
As the Sharks did in Game 3, they struggled to gain entry into the zone with any kind of speed or efficiency against the Kings zone trap. Unlike that game however, San Jose did not adjust their game enough to make the difference tonight.
San Jose needs to return to playing a sound fundamental game to get any consistency on offense going. The Kings centers wreaked havoc as they continually stymied the Sharks rush up ice at the blueline. San Jose will need better play along the half boards to have some speed coming into the attacking zone or get the puck deep.
Much like the Colorado Avalanche playoff series a year ago, the zone trap frustrated San Jose into committing multiple turnovers through the neutral zone.
The early deficit resulted in individuals trying to do too much, playing out of the system and it only built frustration as the game progressed. Frustration led to an inflated shot total lacking enough quality to beat a goaltender playing as well as Quick was tonight.
Quick on his feet
Quick set a Kings playoff record by stopping 52 shots, but a large percentage of Sharks shots lacked presence in front of Quick or around the net.
Craig Anderson anybody?
That is taking nothing away from Jonathan Quick however, the guy made some huge saves late to keep the Sharks from staging another comeback. The saves against Couture were just huge, as well as the Heatley save on the Sharks second power play.
Antero Niittymaki saved the day again, coming in cold and making some big stops to keep the Sharks in relative striking distance. His desperation stop against Drew Doughty was as big a save as the Sharks have had all season.
His performance in Game 2 relief was solid, but Antero was the difference for the Sharks late and it complicates matters for Todd McLellan.
Could Big Frank back the Sharks as they attempt to close out the series in Los Angeles? Niemi giving up three goals on four shots and Niittymaki’s huge saves late could be the makings of a goaltending controversy.
After Game 2 there wasn’t much question as to what sank the Sharks, with a start looking very similar for Sharks fans. But this performance may have opened the door enough for McLellan to think about a possible change.
Unlike postgame comments in Game 2, the head coach was noncommittal after this loss about who would take the start in Game 6.
Antti has never been a very good puckhandling goaltender, as any number of his incidents during the season can attest to. His giveaway leading to the Kings goal just cannot happen in the playoffs with any kind of regularity though.
His contract wasn’t extended based on .250 save percentage playoff hockey, and nobody knows that more than Nemo.
He’s still the man that saved the Sharks season however, still the goaltender that backed the Sharks on their remarkable run to close the season. Without his first half of sub .880 save percentage hockey, Niemi would have easily qualified him for Hart nomination.
Antti Niemi was voted Player of the Year by the Sharks, and they need him to be the guy he’s been.
The question is will he get a chance in Game 6?
His ice time has diminished since his brawl following the Ian White injury in Game 1, and has played poorly in the time he has received. Jamie McGinn had a strong showing in relief of Eager, and finished his checks with authority in the first.
His play still hasn’t been all that horrible at times but there comes a point where you have to ask where he is. He’s been ice-cold for about 5 months now and though you see spurts of effort, you’ve got to be asking for more from the team’s highest player.
Through 20 minutes of ice time tonight, Heater recorded just two shots and that just can't be the kind of return Doug Wilson is expecting.
The frequency and manner in which the Sharks are coughing the puck up does not make for a winning solution in the playoffs. Individuals are causing the turnovers, and while the effort can’t be faulted, the trend has to stop in order for the Sharks to advance.
Team play and total commitment has awoken this team since the New Year, it’s up to the Sharks to return to that kind of play to succeed.
It doesn’t get any bigger than Game 6, and the Sharks must capitalize on the road in order to close out the Kings.
The Staples Center has been a fun place for the Sharks to play in the postseason, but San Jose cannot continue to dig themselves holes to crawl out of. Quite a few questions still linger despite the Sharks winning both of their road games this year, and none of them are bigger than Niemi.
Still though, you've got to like what San Jose has done on the road so far in this series, the problem is, will the bad starts continue?
Who will start in net could also be a big question, and after this game, it could honestly go either way. I still think though you've got to give Niemi the start in Game 6 given what he's done this year and the expectations his contract create.
Which team will show up? When will the power play get back on track? All these questions and more will be answered shortly, but there's one thing we all know for certain.
Jonathan Quick and the Kings are sure to bring their best effort in Game 6, and the Sharks will need their best game this season to seal the deal.