The dust has settled, and the Los Angeles Kings are halfway to defending their Stanley Cup Championship. The San Jose Sharks, who were considered an even match for the Kings (and played like it), put forth a heroic effort to prevent the Kings from moving on. But in the Kings' first Game 7 victory in 20 years, two players with storied playoff resumes put LA over the top and into the next round. One has a long history of performing on the big stage; one has put together six rounds of unprecedented goaltending success.
But through the first period tonight, it wasn't necessarily clear that Justin Williams and Jonathan Quick were going to be the stars of Game 7. In fact, after that first period, it wasn't clear that anyone was going to be the star of Game 7. The Sharks and Kings combined for just eight shots on net in a fast, frantic first period, and each team missed a few great chances. Last-ditch blocked shots and defensive plays by both teams prevented the best looks of the period. For the Kings, it was five minutes in to the game, as Trevor Lewis couldn't get a handle on a rebound with Niemi sprawled on the ice, and Slava Voynov's slapper on the loose puck was blocked by Joe Pavelski. For the Sharks, it was later, when Brad Richardson broke up a pass to a wide-open Joe Thornton on the power play, and Matt Greene blocked Matt Irwin's shot.
The second period was a little different. The shots started getting through, and after Logan Couture was denied the best chance of the game by Jonathan Quick, Justin Williams scored with the Kings' first shot on goal in 19 minutes. LA took advantage of a bad penalty by Brent Burns to seize their second power play. It was an unorthodox way to beat Antti Niemi; Slava Voynov's point shot trickled wide, and Williams was attempting to knock the puck in from the side of the net off of Niemi's pad/skate. But hey, it worked on the third try, and the Kings had the all-important first goal. The home team was 6-0 in this series, and the team that scored first was 6-0 in this series, so all the signs were positive at that point. But LA was going to have to find a second goal; the Sharks were buzzing, and the Kings were 21-0 in the playoffs in 2012 and 2013 when scoring multiple goals.
Quick once again came up with a crucial save seven minutes in, stopping Patrick Marleau with an extended pad and taking care of Couture's rebound attempt as well, and the Kings quickly moved the other way. With the Sharks attempting to make a line change, Slava Voynov carried the puck in with Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams around him. Voynov dropped a pass between his legs back to Kopitar, who delivered a cross-ice pass onto the tape of Williams. Williams took a low wrist shot, and it squeezed between Niemi's skate and the post just before Niemi could get across to make the stop. It was the fifth goal for Williams in four career Game 7s, but more importantly, it was the second goal, and it put the Sharks in a tough position. For the remainder of the period, the goalies were the stars; Niemi robbed the very next Williams scoring chance with his pad and made a lunging skate save on Richardson, while Quick got his leg on a Brent Burns shot and stopped James Sheppard with 30 seconds remaining in the period.
The resulting third period San Jose dominance stemmed from desperation, a little bit of score effects, and some effective offensive zone play from the Sharks' forwards. Quick faced 14 shots in the third, and after a nice save on Scott Gomez to open the final period, he also had to deal with a spear in the neck. Adam Burish came into the front of the net and knocked over Quick, earning a goaltender interference and drawing breathless outrage from NBCSN's Joe Micheletti, who raved that Quick had sold the call and flopped. The replay, of course, showed Quick getting jabbed in the neck by the stick of Burish, but somehow Quick received a two-minute penalty for embellishment as well. Cue angry Kings crowd, and cue some renewed pressure by the Sharks. Jeff Carter got a great breakaway chance in the middle of it which could have put the game away, but Niemi's save bolstered the Sharks, who broke up the Quick shutout minutes later. Dan Boyle took a pass from Joe Pavelski after the Sharks brought the puck in, and his long shot got through traffic and beat Quick underneath the right arm. 14:34 remained.
Other than two more Niemi saves on Justin Williams (who, obviously, came to play), the rest of the period was a showcase for Jonathan Quick. Props to Kyle Clifford, Dustin Penner, Trevor Lewis, and the other Kings forecheckers who helped limit opportunities, but Quick had plenty to do on his own. His biggest saves came in the final five and a half minutes. First, a save on a quick shot by T.J. Galiardi, prompting a Kings icing. On the ensuing faceoff, a long shot by Marc-Edouard Vlasic set up a juicy rebound for Pavelski. Quick stuck his glove out, and this happened:
Quick ended the evening with 25 saves, none bigger than that glove stop. After that moment of wizardry, the Kings held off the empty-net efforts of San Jose and finished off a 2-1 victory. The Kings will open the Western Conference Finals on Friday at home (if Detroit wins) or Saturday on the road (if Chicago wins). Based on the way the Kings have played at home, let's hope the Wings pull off the upset.
In the meantime: congrats to 2012 Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Quick, "Star of our Hearts" Justin Williams, and the rest of the Los Angeles Kings. Keep it going.