You know the names by now. You've heard them constantly for the last week.
On Wednesday night, the 2014 Los Angeles Kings added their name to the list. Many will paint this as a collapse by the San Jose Sharks, but that's doing a disservice to the Kings, who roared back from a 3-0 deficit with two tough home wins and two superb performances in San Jose. Tonight's 5-1 win in Game Seven finished off one of the most stunning comebacks in NHL history and sent LA to the next round.
It was a pretty wide open first period; the pace wasn't particularly fast or hectic, but both teams had no trouble finding decent scoring chances. However, the early minutes were slow... just a good chance for both teams to feel each other out before things picked up. Mike Richards magically ended up all alone in front for the game's first great scoring chance, but Antti Niemi made a great save with the blocker, and perhaps the butt of the stick, to keep the game scoreless. There were a lot of questions about Niemi coming into Game 7, but he played one of his better games of the series tonight.
However, Jonathan Quick matched him save for save in the first period, as Joe Pavelski was among the Sharks stymied by the Kings goaltender. 28 seconds into the second period, though, the Sharks struck. San Jose's third line was a constant thorn in LA's side tonight, and they set up a bunch of traffic for Matt Irwin's seeing eye wrist shot. A Slava Voynov penalty just 38 seconds later put LA behind the eight ball, but they got a key penalty kill to keep it 1-0. Then, Jake Muzzin turned the tide. The underrated half of the Kings' top pairing had drawn fifteen penalties this season, and he drew two in the span of two minutes. The first (a Tommy Wingels hook) ended San Jose's power play, and the second (a dubious elbow on Logan Couture) extended a long power play. The Kings took advantage; Drew Doughty slapped home a loose puck over Niemi's shoulder to tie the game.
The Sharks' power play was a constant threat in this series, and as Nick highlighted a few days back, it was the biggest advantage for San Jose coming in. The Sharks had no shortage of attempts on net, firing fifteen shots at Jonathan Quick on their six power plays. But Quick was utterly fantastic, with his best save coming on Patrick Marleau with the glove.
That save was truly a game-changer, but the Kings looked content to make it to the third period with a tie score until a moment of brilliance from two trusted sources put LA in the driver's seat. Justin Williams entered the zone and headed to the corner, and in a move reminiscent of Drew Doughty's assist to him in Game 6, he hesitated for a split-second before feeding Anze Kopitar down the middle. Kopitar must have been sorely tempted to one-time the pass, but instead, he held on, waited for Niemi to helplessly slide over, and backhanded the puck in.
Oh, and Kyle Clifford got the secondary assist! A small reward for the fourth line, who played really well tonight. Here's the Corsi chart:
With the Sharks down one goal heading into the third, thoughts of last year's Game 7 surely drifted into our minds. But the Kings only had to hang on for about five minutes before they got some breathing room. And it was another dynamic forward pair that did it. Tanner Pearson entered the zone and, instead of driving the net or going around the back, halted below the circle. It provided enough of a distraction for Tyler Toffoli to sneak in, and he one-timed Pearson's pass past Niemi for a backbreaking goal. When the Sharks couldn't convert the subsequent two power plays, the Kings were in good shape.
Quick finished the game with 39 saves, completing a stunning turnaround from giving up twelve goals in Games 1 and 2. And the Kings held off the Sharks' final empty-net attempts, long enough for Dustin Brown and Tanner Pearson to score in the empty net. It was a coronation from there, and most of the fans in the SAP Center filed out as the Kings finished off a 5-1 win.
It's only the first round, and with Game 1 in Anaheim on Saturday, the Kings will have to maintain their recent excellence in order to take down a second in-state rival. But we can celebrate this for a while, because it's hard to overstate what a monumental week this was for this team.
Go Kings Go.