The Los Angeles Kings wrote a lot of history on their way to a Stanley Cup last season, but one chapter didn't get any new entries: the chapter on dramatic comebacks. But tonight, we saw quite the late comeback. It wasn't quite the Miracle on Manchester or the Frenzy on Figueroa, but the Kings' late heroics turned a 3-2 deficit at the two-minute mark into a 4-3 regulation win over the San Jose Sharks.
Let's be honest: the Kings could have played a lot better over the course of the night, and that fact alone will give Sharks fans some hope as the series moves to San Jose. But the start and the finish couldn't have gone much better for Los Angeles. Granted, the Sharks got some good looks at Jonathan Quick early, including a legitimate scoring chance just ten seconds in. But the Kings' first shot found its way into the back of the net, and to no one's surprise, it was Jeff Carter who got the goal. It was a vintage Carter goal, too; he took the puck inside his own blue line, and streaked down the right side all the way into the offensive zone. Once he got a bit further and had half a step on his defender, he let loose a wrist shot which beat Antti Niemi on the far side. It wasn't Niemi's finest hour, but Carter's been scoring those types of goals on a lot of good goalies this year.
That goal came unassisted at even strength and was far from the best chance in the period. The Sharks and Kings both looked pretty good on early power plays but could not convert; the killed Jordan Nolan and Alec Martinez penalties were encouraging for a PK missing Jarret Stoll, while the PP saw two minutes of sustained zone time and was encouraging in its own way. The remaining first-period chances did not go, and the game was 1-0 until the first Los Angeles power play of the second period. Scott Hannan went off for interference, and a magnificent forecheck by Dustin Penner, Brad Richardson, and Trevor Lewis (everyone's favorite power play unit!) kept the puck in. Richardson made a great backhand cross-ice lob pass to Drew Doughty, and with Penner screening Niemi and Niemi going low to see the shot, Doughty's slap shot beat the goalie in the top corner.
With the Kings staked to a 2-0 lead, the onus fell on Jonathan Quick to protect the lead. He came up with a stunning save on Marc-Edouard Vlasic immediately after the goal and an equally great save on Tommy Wingels on the Shark's next power play to keep the lead at 2, but even Quick wasn't getting to Patrick Marleau's tap-in goal soon after that. The goal was essentially a power play marker, as it came five seconds after Alec Martinez's penalty expired; the Kings couldn't clear, and Couture passed to Thornton on one side, who immediately made a perfect pass across to an open Marleau right in front. The goal snapped a 125:08 shutout streak for Quick. But it only took five minutes for San Jose to equalize. Scott Gomez dangled across the blue line and fed a trailing Stuart, who took advantage of a Tommy Wingels screen to beat Quick for his first goal since March 26, 2012. The Sharks' faceoff domination and shot advantage was starting to get to the Kings, and they had to kill off Jeff Carter's charging penalty on Vlasic (a hit which drew attention from Sharks fans and might garner a look from the NHL) just to keep the score tied. Though San Jose largely controlled the first two periods, the #fancystats look pretty even.
Why? The Kings needed to play a lot better in the third period, and they did, outshooting the Sharks 18-7 to even up the overall shooting. Anze Kopitar threw a scare into everyone when he took a puck to the face, but he returned to the game and the offense continued generating chances. But it was San Jose who took the lead despite not getting a shot until 8:56 in. A Sharks rush sent the Kings' D scrambling, and with a delayed penalty on the Kings, Stuart's point shot hit hard off the boards and came back in front. Vlasic's stick got there before anyone else's, and through the crowd he tapped the puck in to give the Sharks a 3-2 edge. Darryl Sutter made a few changes late to give the Kings a better chance at evening the score; Nolan, Fraser, Richardson, and (surprisingly) Williams didn't see the ice in the final minutes, while guys like Tyler Toffoli and Trevor Lewis were trusted to help get the game back.
(AND DID THEY EVER)
If you skipped down to this part, I can't blame you. In the midst of perhaps his best game as a Los Angeles King, Toffoli drew a tripping penalty on Brad Stuart after some good Kings pressure with 2:41 to go. (For some idea of how good he was, check the shot differential link above.) Marc-Edouard Vlasic put the puck over the glass 22 seconds later; replays were inconclusive as to whether it tipped Carter on the way out, but regardless, the Kings had a golden 5-on-3 opportunity. Dustin Brown tied things up 36 seconds after Vlasic made his way to the penalty box. Drew Doughty got in the way of Logan Couture's clearing attempt, and Mike Richards got the initial shot with a bunch of traffic in front. Brown knocked in the rebound, and with a 5-on-4 for another minute and a half, the Kings went in for the kill. With the Staples crowd roaring, Jake Muzzin led Toffoli into the zone with a crisp cross-ice pass, and Toffoli blew by Brad Stuart and put a shot off Niemi's pad. Trevor Lewis was perfectly positioned to tap in the rebound, and wild and disjointed celebrations ensued.
(Niesy's postgame poll has the NBCSN video, by the way. Either way... SICK!)
The Kings were fortunate to avoid overtime, but you can't say they didn't earn this victory. With Stoll out, it was interesting to see the impact of special teams on the night. Quick stopped all six shots with the Kings down a man, while the three power play goals put LA over the top. San Jose is going to be a desperate team during Game 3, and we just saw that coming back form two games down ain't out of the question. But LA is probably pretty pleased to be where they are.
(Leave your praise for Tyler Toffoli in the comments. Dude was unbelievable last night, wasn't he?)