From a neutral standpoint, it was probably the game of the season. The stakes, the goaltending performances, and the intensity made for a tremendously entertaining contest. I won't even moan about the fact that it ended in a shootout; the Los Angeles Kings and the San Jose Sharks gave us a hell of a hockey game. However, given that Raffi Torres scored the shootout winner, you have every right to be irritated at the result. The Sharks triumphed 3-2, and both teams sit at 53 points with five games to go.
[Box Score] [Zone Starts] [Shot Differential] [Video Highlights]
The first period was a prelude to the excitement of the second and third period. Shots were 11-9 Kings, the period was scoreless, and we saw the tensions bubbling up. The Kings brought their A-game on the penalty kill tonight against a dangerous power play team and had dominated an early PK on their way to a strong start, but the Sharks rebounded and had a few chances in the latter stages. The best came when Logan Couture got a juicy rebound of a Martin Havlat shot, but couldn't corral it with the net half-open and scooped a shot to a seated Jonathan Quick. The Kings were saving most of their clear-cut chances for the second, though Niemi was compelled to make a good glove save on Richards on a 3-on-2.
The second period was a showcase for both teams. Antti Niemi was really strong for the first 14 minutes, stopping the Kings time and time again. A glove save on Drew Doughty, while down on the ice with limited visibility. Another big stop on a point-blank Doughty slapper near the end of a power play, after a Brent Burns hooking penalty. And a bonus glove save on Richards during a 5-on-3, where it felt like the Kings would need a superhuman effort to score. By the time that 5-on-3 rolled around, the Kings were staring at a two-goal deficit thanks to a sudden burst of offense by San Jose. Burns had seven total shots on goal on the night, so he was enough of a threat without Dustin Penner handing him the puck in the slot. Unfortunately, Penner did just that midway through the second on a clearing attempt, and Burns made a nifty shot up high to beat Quick. Before the Kings could counter, tonight's annoying opposing player of the game made it 2-0. After the San Jose forecheck kept the Kings from clearing, T.J. Galiardi and Burns executed a give-and-go, with Galiardi flashing by Doughty in front of the net. Burns threw a pass across and Doughty didn't do enough to prevent Galiardi's tip-in.
Galiardi was penalized a couple minutes later for a knee-on-knee hit on Doughty; it didn't seem malicious, but there was certainly a scary minute where Doughty needed assistance to get off the ice. (By the way, after the manufactured controversy from the Avs game, I feel inclined to mention that the Sharks fans were booing while Doughty lay on the ice.) So at this point we had Penner in the doghouse (for the second, at least), Quick on his heels, and a critical 5-on-3 with Niemi stopping everything that moved. Thankfully, the powerplay came through as San Jose attempted to kill off the second of the two penalties. Trevor Lewis won a faceoff and Jake Muzzin was set up by Slava Voynov for a long point shot. Muzzin's blast found its way through traffic and clipped the iron on its way in.
The game continued at a breakneck pace from then on, and Burns (boy, I'm tired of him) forced a big pad save out of Quick with three minutes to go in the second. That save proved huge when, after Brad Richardson and Wingels went to the box with tonight's second set of coincidental minors, Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown equalized with 1:19 remaining in the period. Brown drove wide and fed to Kopitar, who got half a step on Patrick Marleau and was hooked on his way to the net. The shot was stopped by Niemi but San Jose did not gain control on the delayed penalty, and Brown poked the puck before Niemi could cover it up. Tie game, and a third period with everything at stake.
The third was a bit of a blur for everyone; I suggest checking out the gameday thread to see how we were all feeling. But I'll summarize it with some key saves... Quick stones Burns two minutes in. Niemi stops Kyle Clifford, who get shoved from behind into the crossbar by Galiardi (told you he was annoying!). Dwight King gets an open shot in the slot but shoots it into Niemi's crest. Rob Scuderi gives the puck straight to Wingels five feet from Quick, and Quick somehow makes a reflex stop on the immediate shot and a Torres follow-up. Quick on a half-breakaway by Galiardi. Carter gets a full breakaway and mostly beats Niemi five-hole, but the puck squirms wide. Richardson forces a glove save out of Niemi, a driving Galiardi forces a poke-check from Quick, and somehow, in all of that, the goalies were perfect. One odd incident to note as well: Dustin Penner somehow earned the only penalty on what should have been the third set of coincidental minors, as his grab-from-behind was deemed punishable in the third period of a tie game. Thankfully, the Kings killed that crucial penalty off easily.
The five-minute overtime didn't slow down too much, but there was one glorious chance; Jeff Carter and Mike Richards got a 2-on-1 halfway through the extra session. But Richards waited a bit too long to feed Carter, and Niemi correctly predicted that Carter would go to his backhand and made the stop. From there, shootout. Kopitar had Niemi beaten on the second shot but put the puck high, and Torres notched the deciding goal by sliding the puck through the opened legs of Quick.
There's only one regular-season matchup left for these two (on April 27, the season finale), but a playoff matchup looks increasingly likely. Should be fun. Your thoughts?