NHL Playoffs 2011: San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings Game 6 Breakdown
The San Jose Sharks headed to the Staples Center for another chance to close out the Kings after falling short in Game 5. Looking for their third road win in the series, the Sharks had a wide array of questions that punctuated the playoff atmosphere in LA.
Those questions were answered at 2:22 of the overtime period, as captain Joe Thornton and the Sharks top line sent the Kings on vacation.
The way this series had shaped up, victory number four against the Kings figured to be a slugfest till the end. And it didn’t disappoint as the Kings fought back to tie after each San Jose score, clawing and fighting until the very end.
Antti Niemi rebounded after his second difficult start in the playoffs, recording 26 saves in the victory, and again coming up huge late in the third.
San Jose jumped out with a terrific effort in the first period, outshooting the Kings 16-5 and Joe Pavelski leading the way with five shots. Both Quick and Niemi were up to task against some very high-quality scoring chances, keeping the score card clean after the first period.
Just three minutes into the second period, Kyle Wellwood scored from the slot wristing the puck past Jonathan Quick. Joe Thornton had all the time in the world to find Wellwood between the circles, but the Kings wasted no time responding.
Following a high sticking double minor to Joe Thornton, Justin Williams tied the score on a fortunate rebound opportunity.
Jason Demers has had a very good series so far, and his hard work and effort paid off as he put the Sharks ahead at 16:52 in the second period. Great feed by Joe Pavelski and terrific work by the Sharks third line who had another terrific game.
The Kings rebounded in the second period, and the Sharks finished it strong, looking to carry the play to finish off the Kings.
Ryan Smyth had other ideas, tying the game just 18 seconds into the third period to give the Kings new life.
Sharks fans finally got some Heat as Dany sniped the puck high to the opposite side at 8:48 of the third. Following a questionable Jason Demers interference penalty, the Kings responded to tie things up as Trevor Lewis tied it on the rebound.
Just a few seconds later, referee Dan O'Halloran called Jamie McGinn for a five-minute major for boarding as well as a misconduct. He then decided that the play was worth a five-minute major in the final minutes of a tied playoff game.
The Sharks killed off the penalty that stretched into the overtime frame, before Jumbo came through with his overtime heroics. Scoring the goal at 2:22 of the extra frame, the top line came through in the clutch, sending the Kings packing in six.
The Sharks exacted their game early in a game that required it given the Game 5 loss and the momentum riding with Los Angeles. They took play to the Kings early and often, missing on some key plays including Ian White’s ringer off the post late in the first.
San Jose needed this kind of first period, and it’s something they’ve sorely lacked in the playoffs so far.
The Sharks have been outscored 8-1 in the first period thus far, digging themselves a hole against an excellent defensive team in LA.
More importantly, they made the Kings earn every opportunity early and played strong in all three zones.
Before the Williams' tally for Los Angeles, San Jose had killed off 16 straight man advantages and were rising to the challenge.
The Sharks have struggled this year in this department, but the team shone tonight during the five-minute penalty kill. The remarkable penalty kill that stretched into overtime put the odds against San Jose, and the Sharks rose to the occasion.
It could very well be a season-defining moment in a season full of such circumstances and bodes well for San Jose moving forward.
Getting Back to Basics
After Game 5, Kings head coach Terry Murray spoke about Jonathan Quick and the Sharks’ chances.
"It's not a number I'm concerned about," Kings coach Terry Murray said of the Game 5. "It's the Grade A, quality chances that are the ones I really focus in on and that number was not too bad."
Playing the road game tonight, the Sharks are returning to basics and fundamentals and making their shots count.
The Sharks won their third game on the road in the playoffs so far, something that hasn’t happened in six years. They made Jonathan Quick work for his saves, and it paid off for San Jose after an inflated 51 shots in Game 5.
Sharks need to keep it simple against Chicago/Detroit and continue to push the puck deep and find success through the forecheck as they did tonight.
Following his forgettable performance in Game 5, Niemi was solid and gave the Sharks the goaltending they needed to win.
Nemo carried a bloated goals-against of 4.52 into Game 6 with a meager save percentage of .845, raising some serious questions.
And responding to the flurry of question marks, Antti again showed his championship mettle to dispatch Los Angeles in six. Making huge saves at critical moments, Niemi kept the Sharks alive with the game on the line.
As he did in Game 1, Niemi rebounded with some key saves late including the Ryan Smyth save with 27 seconds left. Antti also completely robbed Dustin Brown with just six seconds left, lifting the Sharks up through a horrible miscall.
Although some questions may still remain after this series, Niemi showed again tonight why the Sharks signed him in the offseason.
He’s clutch and can snatch victory from the jaws of almost certain defeat and will need to maintain his play for the Sharks to advance.
After the sluggish start to the season and relatively quiet first round of the playoffs, Joe’s been the target of many “experts.” And to his credit, he’s continued to keep his nose to the grindstone and kept playing two-way hockey, despite the criticism.
He dominated every King not named Jarret Stoll in the series, including 8-10 performance in Game 6.
Scoring the overtime winner was huge for the big man, who finally got rewarded for some tough play that didn’t always translate into statistics.
Could Thornton be on the road to glory, silencing his critics and skeptics alike?
What Didn’t Work :
The power play struggles continued against the Kings tonight, and San Jose is just 2-23 in their last man advantages. With just three shots against Los Angeles in three power plays tonight, the Sharks have got to find a way to break through their slump.
Call me a homer, but I just didn’t see a five-minute major a fitting punishment for McGinn late in a tied playoff game. Referees have a tough job judging a game moving at an extremely fast rate, but this call was questionable at best.
I won't even get into the strange high-sticking inconsistencies in the second period, because those were horrible.
The Sharks struggled through a bad stretch in the second period, and Scott Nichol went just 1-7 including four defensive zone losses.
Boiler had a rough series to kick off the playoffs and is either fatigued or just going through a funk; he's got to be better in the next round.
History Will Be Made?
We’ve all seen the “History will be Made” commercial depicting San Jose’s miraculous comeback in Game 3, but it’s still just win 4-of-16. Bad habits die hard, and the Sharks inconsistencies have got to stop reappearing for San Jose to expect a long run.
While the team still has some warts, you have got to love the fact they’ve won their third road game and have three overtime wins already.
Question Game 2 if you will, but the Sharks knew they had to win this game to prevent any chance of heading back to San Jose. No team who has taken their first-round opponent to seven games has won the Stanley Cup in 10 years.
Some may favor Detroit and factor Jimmy Howard, or the team’s average age as positives despite their All-Star roster. However, I just don’t see the Canucks recovering to win in Game 7, which means a rematch with the team that swept the Sharks a year ago.
Much like Los Angeles, the Blackhawks may lack the depth on paper but cannot be counted out in any way. Chicago will be without the services of many of the players that helped usher the Sharks out of the playoffs, but they are still as dangerous as ever.
And the good thing is, the Sharks shouldn’t want it any other way.