San Jose's second-round series against the Los Angeles Kings didn't get off to the greatest start Tuesday night, in the sense that the Sharks lost and thereby dashed any and all hopes of a 16-0 run to championship glory. Tragically, the Sharks will now have to settle for no better than a 16-1 playoff record en route to the franchise's first Stanley Cup.
In all seriousness, it was a tale of two periods for the Sharks in that they were decidedly the better team for two periods. Unfortunately, the game of hockey involves three periods and a lackluster second period effort by San Jose in which the Kings staked themselves to a 2-0 lead on a Mike Richards deflection sunk the Sharks to their first loss of the 2013 playoffs.
Things started off well enough as the Sharks generated speed through the neutral zone and set up shop in the Kings' end of the rink with some regularity in the first period. If rust had built up for them for over their week-long layoff, it certainly didn't show early on. Joe Pavelski drew an interference penalty five minutes in, putting the Sharks on a power play which looked every bit as lethal as it did against the Vancouver Canucks in round one, except for the whole scoring a goal bit. Despite that, the Sharks carried play for a good portion of the first period until a miscue following an offensive-zone faceoff win sprung the Kings' breakout and resulted in a Slava Voynov goal with 13 seconds remaining in the initial frame.
Although the Voynov marker held up as the game-winner, it was the second period where the Sharks really let this game slip away. San Jose had little answer for the Kings' forecheck and struggled to manufacture clean zone exits, a combination that predictably led to the Sharks being trapped in their own end for shifts at a time. Tasked with shutting down Anze Kopitar's line, Logan Couture and company were victimized by the Slovenian center on the shot clock but instead beaten by Mike Richards on the scoreboard as the Kings center tipped a Voynov shot like it was a bartender in the back half of the second, giving L.A. a two-goal lead they wouldn't relinquish. What they did lose was Jarret Stoll following a controversial hit by Raffi Torres. The last thing I am is a fan of Torres but it appeared as though the initial contact was shoulder-to-shoulder with the unfortunate side effect of Torres' helmet clanging against that of Stoll. It doesn't seem like the play warrants supplemental discipline but Torres does have a fully deserved reputation with the league office.
The Sharks would storm back in the third, however, controlling the puck for seemingly the entire period and directing 28 shots at Jonathan Quick, several of which proved to be quality looks including four off the stick of Brent Burns. Resembling the 2012 postseason version of himself that gave opposing shooters nightmares rather than the 2013 regular season version of himself that simply shit the bed, Quick turned aside everything the Sharks threw at him. While San Jose's dominant performance in the final twenty minutes will understandably be a positive takeaway from this game for many, the major caveat as always is that every team in the league collapses into a defensive shell when protecting a two-goal, third period lead. It's hardly wise to predict the Sharks will be able to carry their play in the third tonight over to Game 2.
At the same time, this wasn't one of those games where the Sharks only came alive when things were already out of reach. They had their chances on Quick throughout and proved that they can certainly skate with the defending champions. If the Sharks are overmatched in this series, it isn't by a lot and the margin is certainly thinner than it would have been had these clubs met last spring. Ultimately, the Sharks need a better performance from Couture's line in their matchup against Kopitar and more offense from Pavelski at even-strength against the Kings' depth forwards. Perhaps sprinkle in Jason Demers in lieu of Scott Hannan and the Sharks just might have a recipe for success on Thursday to steal home-ice advantage without changing many of the ingredients they used tonight. On the other hand, if the Kings' goaltender continues to engage superhuman mode, the Sharks could be in for a quick exit.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Jonathan Quick
2nd Star: Slava Voynov
3rd Star: Mike Richards