When Brad Richardson fired a slapshot past Antti Niemi in the early minutes of the second period to give the Kings a 4-0 lead, that familiar feeling of dread began to seep into our living rooms. Here we go again, some of us thought.
Fans were already seeing flashbacks of a decade of playoff failures and started polluting the Facebook and Twitter airwaves with anti-Shark language that included words rhyming with “hallrucker” and “ditchbass.”
Things looked pretty hopeless after all. The Kings’ goaltender Jonathan Quick had been lights out in the net for the past two games, and the Sharks couldn’t find a way to penetrate the Rubik Cube defense which had puzzled them ever since Joe Pavelski drilled the overtime game winner in Game 1.
Their regular season MVP skated off the ice and backup goalie Niittymaki took his place between the pipes. This is normally where the Sharks sit back and get torched for two more periods, perhaps hoping that more goals from the opposition means less output in Game 3. It’s seemingly what the Canucks had in mind 2,000 miles away in Chicago.
Then something strange happened. Patrick Marlow put in an unassisted goal, making the score 4-1. The Kings suddenly couldn’t get the puck past Niittimaki, and for some reason the Sharks started scoring.
The men in teal mounted a frantic comeback, tallying three goals in the span of 11 minutes to close the gap to one. When Los Angeles finally got one past Nitti (something that was expected but nevertheless stung when it occurred), the Sharks got it back and added another one 54 seconds later for their fifth goal of the period.
Big Joe just keeps finding the right time to do his Sidney Crosby impersonation, riding on all of the momentum the Sharks had built in the last 15 minutes and slinging one into the net to stun the crowd at the Staples Center.
New score, new game.
The Sharks haven’t had a five goal period since the before first World War, when then American President Woodrow Wilson distracted Canadian Prime Minister Robert Borden with an orange and a picture of Morley Safer in his twenties. Well, they haven't had one in seven years as far as I can remember, but who cares.
The Sharks drew a stalemate in the third period despite outshooting Los Angeles 34-22 and keeping the puck in their territory for long stretches—including a flurry that nearly caused 20,000 towel waving maniacs to soil themselves in unison.
Four minutes into overtime, Devin Setoguchi broke loose in front of the net and rocketed one past the diving Jonathan Quick for the game winner. The only sounds that could be heard was from the Sharks celebration taking place on the ice.
Just two days earlier in the same building, Chris Paul dismantled the Lakers’ in Game 1 of the NBA Playoffs. The loss showed Lakers fans that their team’s era of dominance was crumbling. Even if the Lakers get past the Grizzlies, they’ll find out another team is better than they are. Maybe the Spurs, maybe the Bulls. No matter who it is, it’s going to be a fun watching an aggravated Kobe Bryant lipping off to the ref on the sidelines, saying things that’ll probably get him a lifelong ban in places outside of a Colorado ski resort.
But Tuesday night in LA was almost as fun. The Sharks did something that they never did once in their twenty-year existence. They fought their way out of a sticky situation. Down four goals midway through the game with their star goalie on the bench, they didn’t cry, and they didn’t mope. They fought. They fought until they wrestled back the home ice advantage the Kings had stolen from them in Game 2 .
And tonight the fight starts again. The Kings aren’t taking anything lying down. If anything, they’ll use Game 2 as a reason to come out tough and aggressive. I have a feeling though, that the Sharks wouldn’t rather be doing anything else than playing hockey in sunny Los Angeles.
The question is who Todd McLellan starts at goaltender in Game 3. Niemi gave up two goals in the first three minutes of the game yesterday, which was disconcerting considering that he gave up four in Saturday’s game at the Tank.
Despite two disappointing performances on consecutive nights, Niemi needs to get back on track if the Sharks want to make a serious run in the playoffs. Niittymaki turned out a gutsy effort last night in stopping 11 of 12 shots, but Antti has shown all throughout the season that he can rebound from a couple of off nights.
This is just how the Sharks like it. Score a lot of goals when your netkeeper doesn’t play well against the weaker teams. Then you win the close nailbiters against the good teams when your goalie gets hot.
It’s hard to watch, but it’s also fun. Nothing ever comes easy if you’re a Sharks fan, so suck it up you pansies. Sit on your knees and grab a bottle of Vicodin from the cupboard. What else would you rather be doing?
Please understand that the last question was rhetorical.