It seems that one of the younger kids of this Kings team is about to establish himself as the new overtime winner guy - one Tanner Pearson. After a handful of winners in 3v3 overtime this regular season, he added to reputation by potting the game winner for the Kings. The Kings added their first win and made the series 2-1, and now it all doesn't seem so impossible.
It feels like it wouldn't be a playoff game against the Sharks if we didn't start out with some bad news. In this case, it would be the Sharks scoring on their first shot on goal- for the third game in a row. Darryl Sutter elected to start the Carter line tonight, and they were lined up for what was ostensibly a routine zone exit. Brayden McNabb hesitated and passed it right into the skates of Milan Lucic. Unable to handle the pass in time, the Sharks' forecheck went to work. It wasn't long before Joe Thornton skated with the puck, uncontested, around the front of the net. His shot caught Jonathan Quick sliding the wrong way, and the Kings were magically chasing the game right from the start.
The Kings answered not much later, thankfully. After Drew Doughty drew a hooking call against Tommy Wingels, the Kings' power play went to work, and it started to look like the improved power play we saw bouts of throughout the year. Eventually, Anze Kopitar got a beautiful gift with a loose puck right in front of him, and he equalized the game before frustration had time to set in. It was a kind of statement we've been waiting for from Kopitar given the dominance of the Joe Thornton line early in this series. Kopitar would go on to put five shots on goal, the most of any forward, and largely thanks to the power play. It also cemented one of the Sharks' weaknesses, highlighting the fourth lines' propensity for poor play and needless penalties.
What followed the opening goals was two and half periods of tension-filled stalemate. While San Jose won the overall 5v5 possession battle by a small margin, they continue to neutralize nearly all LA's attempts to get an actual shot on net. In fact, it was a game of bizzaro opposites. The Kings managed just 13 shots on goal during the entire game at 5v5, compared to the Sharks' 25. However, the Sharks only managed five shots on net during their five total power plays (stop taking penalties plz thx), contrasted with the Kings' 11 shots on their three power plays. The teams essentially switched strengths this game in terms of shot count, but there is still more to the story.
On the early power plays, the Kings were doing a good job challenging pucks getting into the zone or just after they got into the zone as they did their best to prevent the establishment of a cycle in the defensive end. When there were attempts, they were mostly blocked or missed shots. However, things changed as we moved into the third. On the two power plays the Sharks enjoyed in the third, they absolutely hemmed the Kings in their zone with precision puck movement and constant personnel shifts that prevented the creation of board battles. At one point, Anze Kopitar was without a stick and the entire Kings PK crew looked like corpses gently shifting in the wind just waiting for the next San Jose chance. Magically, they held on, as did Jonathan Quick after giving up that horrid first period goal.
The Kings headed to overtime for the first time this post season, and it was accompanied with some less than rosy stats about their overtime record against the Sharks over the last several years in the playoffs. This was also a time when the Kings' dominance at overtime in the regular season didn't matter, as the game would be played at the same 5v5 they had struggled with all night. The Sharks certainly got a few good looks early in the period, but it didn't take long for the game-changer to emerge.
As the puck squirted out of the zone on what looked to be another trip to the Kings' zone, Kings captain Dustin Brown levied a huge shoulder check to free the puck just outside the blue line. Seemingly want to respond to Brown's check with physicality, Breden Dillon elected to avenge his teammate by throwing his own check, and he took himself out of the play. Tanner Pearson got the puck along the boards, and he found himself with some space as Logan Couture was delinquent in staying back for the chance. Pearson skated toward the net with space, and a Shark went down to prevent the pass to Vincent Lecavalier. This gave Tanner the time he needed to fire the winner past Jones and seal the victory for the beleaguered Kings. If there was any need for redemption after his delay of game penalty in the third, it's fair to say that Tanner earned it.
"Tanner needs some space." pic.twitter.com/SojmRUahMe— LA Kings (@LAKings) April 19, 2016
The game was a significant defensive change for the Kings. McNabb's early flub meant he would only earn 10:30 of total ice time. Jamie McBan got even less at just 5:42. I'm not sure what McBain did, but it must have been really bad. This meant that Rob Scuderi saw significant time with Drew Doughty, and both he and Luke Schenn ended up playing more than 20 minutes. As scary as this all sounds, the Kings were close to keeping pace with the Sharks at generating chances, despite not getting them on net. More to their credit, they all limited Joe Pavelski to just three attempts at even strength, and only one shot on goal the entire game. This does not excuse that line's dominance at 5v5, however.
Going forward, the Kings defense has seemed to get the Sharks' ability to generate offense and chances to a somewhat acceptable level. Their high mark was certainly game two when they mostly trailed the whole game, which bodes well should they need to come back in future games. However, the Kings have a dire need to generate offense at 5v5. With the offensive depth this team has, there is no excuse for not generating more chances. It seems that the offense would have been dead in the water at 5v5 were it not for the speed and ability to create space of Marian Gaborik and Jeff Carter. The Kings are still down 2-1, and if they're going to play 50-50 games the rest of the series, the odds simply aren't in their favor.