The Los Angeles Kings and the San Jose Sharks battled for a shot at a top-4 seed for most of the regular season, before the St. Louis Blues stole it away on the final day. Both wanted it because of their home success; the Kings had 19 home wins (tops in the NHL), while the Sharks earned points in 22 home games (also tops in the NHL). However, neither earned it, partially due to poor road records; the Kings and Sharks tied for the fewest road wins of any playoff team in either conference.
So it's no surprise that the home team is perfect so far in this Round 2 matchup. The Sharks overwhelmed the Kings for the first half of the game at HP Pavilion, and after some nerve-wracking moments, they held on for a 2-1 win and knotted up the series at two games apiece.
The first period was a bit gruesome. You would have expected a strong San Jose start at home, but not to the tune of a 15-3 shot advantage. Jonathan Quick was tested early and stuck out a pad to deny Patrick Marleau on the doorstep three minutes in, and a few players had to show up early on the backcheck, including much-maligned Anze Kopitar. Matt Greene made his first playoff appearance and was in the right place to clear multiple loose pucks, including one instance where a fat rebound was about to land on the tape of Joe Thornton. Speaking of Thornton, if you watched a single second of the NBCSN broadcast yesterday, you already know that he had an incredible first period yesterday. (I'm pretty sure he praised Thornton more in the first intermission than he's praised Patrick Marleau in his entire career.) He contributed to the only goal of the first in the same way he was contributing everywhere else: getting to pucks first, shrugging off defenders, and setting up teammates for scoring chances. Slava Voynov couldn't shield the puck in deep from Thornton, who picked up the puck and passed to Brent Burns. The initial Burns bid was blocked by a sprawling Mike Richards, but Thornton got the rebound at the side of the net and set up Burns again. Burns didn't miss this time.
After a couple of big-time Quick saves, penalties to Colin Fraser (obvious hook) and Drew Doughty (a slash which was a bit soft for a playoff game), and a Tommy Wingels shot which shook the crossbar, the Kings were fortunate to only be down 1-0 after the first period. The second period saw perhaps the Kings' first good shift of the game, as the fourth line managed to cycle the puck and consecutive shots got to Antti Niemi. Progress! Unfortunately, that progress was immediately halted by Colin Fraser, who took a dumb charging penalty and put the Sharks back on the power play. Thornton joined the Marleau line on the man advantage and they came through; Thornton's cross-ice pass was tapped back to Dan Boyle by Joe Pavelski, and Boyle's point shot deflected off of Logan Couture and past Quick.
At that point, San Jose was outshooting Los Angeles 19-5. The worst was over and the Sharks largely ceased their relentless pressure, but the Kings could not take advantage. Actually, in one case, they DID take advantage, but an absolutely brutal refereeing mistake kept the Kings off the board. The revamped third line (which wasn't as good tonight) got the puck moving in the offensive zone, as Lewis moved the puck to Robyn Regehr, who moved it across for Voynov. Voynov's shot was brilliantly tipped by Tyler Toffoli, and Niemi reacted just in time to slow the puck down as it got through his five-hole. From re-watching the video, it was about half a second between the moment the puck hit Niemi and the moment referee Brad Meier blew the whistle. Unfortunately, the puck had gotten free behind Niemi about a quarter of a second earlier, and the whistle blew as Dustin Penner was knocking the puck into the net.
After the referees were the center of attention in Game 2 and Game 3, everyone was probably hoping that they would stay out of the limelight tonight. Unfortunately, this call was blatantly worse than any of the controversial late calls in Game 2 or Game 3. Meier was fortunate that the play was in the middle of the second period, as it looks like most of the game recaps glossed over the play. It's not the reason the Kings lost, but it was a blown call which cost the Kings an important goal in a playoff game, and Dustin Penner immediately let the refs hear about it. It might be worth noting that the Kings received two power plays in the remainder of the period (including one on a goaltender interference which wasn't goaltender interference) while the Sharks received none, but it didn't help LA find that important first goal.
The stats show just how well the Kings played in the third period, as they completely made up their huge shot deficit and even came out ahead overall in the Corsi figures. LA got a goal back after Brent Burns went to the box for boarding Anze Kopitar; after some shots were blocked, Jeff Carter finally got a puck through to Antti Niemi. Niemi ended up on the ice with his arms outstretched as Mike Richards took a couple whacks at the rebound, and his second one crept in between the post and Niemi's arm. Richards now leads the Kings with nine points in ten playoff games thus far, and though his line was on the ice for most of Thornton's first-period work, they found a lot more success when Penner replaced Dwight King on Richards' other wing.
Unfortunately, the best chances after that came on pucks an Anze Kopitar wraparound which went through the crease in front of Niemi, and a long Drew Doughty backhand attempt which got into the crease. No really good scoring opportunities, and the Kings went down to defeat. The road woes continue for the Kings, who have lost 10 of 11 now away from Staples Center. Game 5 is back in Los Angeles on Thursday night, and while home will help, the Kings need more than just familiar confines to win it.