It was kind of fun hearing the media marvel at how physical the Los Angeles Kings' first-round series against St. Louis was. ("My god, I've never seen hockey like this!") But while the matchup earned rave reviews for its quality and competitiveness, there were naturally some concerns about how it would affect the Kings in Round 2. After all, the San Jose Sharks were coming off of a sweep of the Vancouver Canucks and a weeklong rest.
If the concerns weren't fully banished, they were at least addressed tonight. And with the assistance of the one player who didn't get repeatedly smashed against the boards last week, the Kings played their game and shut out the Sharks 2-0 to take the first game of the Western Conference Semifinals.
First off: Jonathan Quick was extremely good. Granted, the Kings did a good job of limiting San Jose's scoring chances, especially considering how desperate they were in the latter stages of the game. But Quick still needed to be on top of his game, and at various points he was asked to come up big. Five minutes in, the Kings' excellent PK was tested by San Jose's dominant power play; Quick came up with a reflex save on Joe Pavelski's whirling shot and a point-blake stop on Patrick Marleau to keep the game scoreless. The saves continued as Quick followed up by denying a close-range bid by T.J. Galiardi; at this point, shots were 7-3 San Jose.
From there, the Kings found the necessary response, testing Antti Niemi and getting some pucks towards the net. Dwight King almost snuck one through Niemi coming down the left wing, but otherwise it didn't seem that the Kings were going to solve Niemi in the first period. Enter Slava Voynov and Mike Richards. The duo combined for the first time tonight to put the Kings ahead with 13 seconds left of the opening 20 minutes. Richards helped lead LA into the zone and was accosted by Matt Irwin near the blue line. Voynov was trailing the rest of the team, but when the puck got loose and neither Richards nor Irwin could go for it, Voynov darted forward to grab it. He had enough space to set himself up for a shot, and he slapped an unstoppable shot into the top corner through traffic for a 1-0 lead. The late goal phenomenon continues.
The second period saw a single basic offensive strategy, apparently based loosely on that last-second goal: point shots by defensemen! Well, to be more acccurate, puck-cycling leading to point shots and attempted traffic. I'm not sure that Robyn Regehr has ever taken that many shots. Most of them missed; however, one of those defenseman's attempts paid off at the 12:30 mark of the second. Shortly after the Kings killed off an Anze Kopitar hooking penalty (which should have either been no penalty or a call on Regehr), Dustin Brown took the puck in deep. Rob Scuderi received the puck after a Sharks check and moved it to Voynov. As Mike Richards moved in front of Antti Niemi, Voynov's long shot deflected off Richards' leg and just inside the post. 2-0; cue the onslaught. The stats from this game (see below!) ended up lopsided, but San Jose's advantage was solely from that stretch where LA had a two-goal lead.
Regardless, it was still a dominant possession stretch from San Jose, requiring some key saves by Quick. Brent Burns, as per usual, was a main catalyst; Fear the Fin pointed out that he ended up with the main scoring chances in the second half of the game, but to no avail. The Kings battled through a possible head injury for Jarret Stoll thanks to a Raffi Torres hit, as well as a possible tweak for Drew Doughty on the same play after a (clean) hit by Patrick Marleau. The Sharks' other forwards (Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, etc) padded their shot totals in the third, but when the game was tight they appeared to be slightly outplayed by their opposing numbers in Kopitar, Richards, and the rest. And once the defensemen had finished clearing loose pucks and making good decisions (they did both!), and Quick had finished swallowing up rebounds, the Kings had finished off their shutout.
Game 1 is in the books. What'd you think of the performance?