Game Five Recap: Kings Put it All Together, Force Game 6
It had been a house of horrors for the Kings lately, but the SAP Center was no problem on Saturday as the Kings shut out San Jose, 3-0.
Games 1-4: 20 goals allowed
Game 5: 0 goals allowed
There's a lot to take away from the Los Angeles Kings' performance in Game 5, but we can start there. The Kings weren't going to win unless they shut down the San Jose Sharks' offense, and for the first time in this series, they did just that.
... oh, and they also scored three goals.
The first four games of the series had goals scored in the first five minutes. Game 5, however, lasted a whole 8:09 before the first goal was scored! The Kings flew out of the gates, getting twelve of the first fourteen shots in the first period, and the eleventh shot found the back of the net. Darryl Sutter's new line combinations have been gangbusters in the last two games, and the new second line paid dividends early. Tomas Hertl threw the puck at the net while falling down, and Alec Martinez cleared the puck out of the crease. That long clearance sprung Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli into the offensive zone, as Pearson used his speed to beat James Sheppard and Marc-Edouard Vlasic down the ice. Pearson chose not to drive to the net and fed back to Toffoli, who patiently deked Toffoli and used a quick wrister to beat Antti Niemi.
The Kings continued to press in the first period, ending up with 18 shots to the Sharks' 6, and they would end up with two goals to the Sharks' 0. (Sorry, we're all about stating the obvious right now.) The Kings had two terrific chances immediately after that first goal; Justin Williams nearly converted a great pass from Jarret Stoll, while Niemi was able to deny Pearson on another rush. Niemi could only hold out for so long, though, as Anze Kopitar picked up his first goal of the playoffs to put the Sharks behind the eight-ball. For the second straight game, Dustin Brown carried the puck in and shot the puck to the Niemi's far pad to set up a fat rebound; Gaborik was the beneficiary on Thursday, but Kopitar finished the job this time.
It was, by every metric, a fantastic first period. The only blemish was Jarret Stoll's roughing penalty on Vlasic after the second goal. At first glance the call looked a bit dubious, but replays showed that Stoll, after an initial "finishing of the check," delivered a forearm to Vlasic's head. Supplemental discipline undetermined; Vlasic left the game after the hit and did not return, and his absence would be a huge blow to the Sharks' chances of finishing off this series on Monday.
Two-goal leads have meant absolutely nothing in this series, and when the Kings were up 2-0 in Game 2, the Sharks blew the Kings out of the water in the second period. However, 22 seconds in, the Kings scored a power play goal to make things even more difficult for San Jose. It was a lucky goal, as Jeff Carter banked a puck off the skate of Brad Stuart, but it was a crucial goal. It also sent Niemi to the bench for the second straight game. Backup Alex Stalock's 22 saves will create a miniature goaltending controversy going into Game 6. But if Todd McLellan's choice to pull Niemi was meant to send a message to the team, it didn't really come through; San Jose was unable to tilt the ice at even strength during the second.
From there, attention turned to Jonathan Quick. The defense and the goaltending can probably be blamed in equal measure for putting LA in a 3-0 hole, but Quick certainly needed to step up his game, and he did so on Saturday. The Sharks threatened on the power play quite a bit in the second, and Quick made a set of good saves to hold San Jose off. The third period belonged to the Sharks (but that happens when you're down three goals... score effects hard at work!), but Quick turned away those last 14 shots to earn a much-needed shutout. He played a considerably more composed game; see this save on Tommy Wingels, where Quick nearly goes sliding out of the net but keeps his body in position long enough to knock away the shot.
It was a fantastic effort on road ice, the first time this series that the Kings have noticeably outplayed the Sharks. And what a time to do it. On the bright side for San Jose, they outhit the Kings 55-49!
Game 6 is on Monday night.