At least the Sharks can take comfort in the fact that their third period collapse wasn't the most embarrassing one to occur in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this week.
A penalty kill unit that at times was the team's backbone during the regular season and their first-round sweep of Vancouver was victimized twice in 22 seconds as the Sharks watched the 3-2 lead they held with less than two minutes remaining in the third period turn into a 4-3 Los Angeles win that puts the Kings up 2-0 heading into San Jose.
But what shouldn't be lost in the fray of the Sharks failing to close out a series-tying win is that they played a pretty damn good game, controlling play for much of the first two periods. Moral victories certainly don't mean much in the playoffs but the Kings might have a more difficult time closing this series out than many expect, particularly in light of the way the Sharks managed to lose this one.
After the Sharks opened the game by stringing together a few dominant shifts, Jeff Carter collected the aftermath of a missed shot by Logan Couture, streaked down the right wing and scored one of the weaker goals Antti Niemi has allowed this postseason. Drew Doughty staked the Kings to a 2-0 lead with a power play blast from just beyond the right circle as cracks in the San Jose penalty kill unit manifested early. Still, the Sharks were more effective at winning the even-strength territorial battle while the game remained close than they were on Tuesday and pulled to within one when Patrick Marleau tapped in a three-way passing play immediately after the conclusion of a man advantage.
Brad Stuart tied the game on his first goal as a Shark since October 2005 off a pass from newfound third-line center Scott Gomez with James Sheppard and Tommy Wingels parked in front of Jonathan Quick. Gomez and Stuart figured in once again midway through the third as Marc-Edouard Vlasic, after being boarded by Jeff Carter late in the second, tucked a puck past Quick on a delayed penalty. Much like the Kings in Game 1, the Sharks were content to sit on their third period lead. Unlike the Kings in Game 1, the Sharks got into penalty trouble.
Although the roughing call on James Sheppard, which San Jose managed to survive, was questionable, subsequent penalties to Stuart and Vlasic were not. After Stuart was whistled for tripping Tyler Toffoli a little past the 17-minute mark, Vlasic--who at the time had the opportunity to ensure his first career playoff goal would hold up as the winner--popped a puck over the glass and into the stands, triggering an automatic minor and resulting in an extended 5-on-3 for Los Angeles. Logan Couture failed to clear the zone despite regaining possession in the slot and Doughty set up a play down low for the Kings that Dustin Brown put away to tie the score.
Twenty-two seconds later, with the Kings still on the power play, Toffoli gained the blueline unimpeded and fired a shot that Niemi kicked right into the slot for Trevor Lewis. He provided the dagger and all of a sudden the Kings snatched a 2-0 series lead out of the jaws of losing home-ice advantage. A lot will be said on one end about how the Sharks' collapse was predictable (which it wasn't, in that no one could have possibly foreseen two penalties in such quick succession) and on the other about how a series doesn't really begin until a team loses a home game (which doesn't really mitigate the sting of being down 2-0) but what's important is that, aside from making tactical changes to their shorthanded game, the Sharks ought not to dwell on how this game ended. The focus should be on extending their success through the first two periods and change over an entire game. Preferably Game 3.
If Games 1 and 2 (and, really, the entirety of their series against St. Louis despite the victory) are any indication, these aren't your Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings. Don't get me wrong, they're still a terrific hockey team but the seemingly unbeatable juggernaut that set fire to the league last spring they are not. It's difficult to see them repeating as champs if they continue to play this way but the question of relevance to the Sharks is whether the Kings' downfall will come this round or at the hands of the Blackhawks in the Conference Final (or if they'll ride Quick to another Cup but let's just pretend that isn't an option, despite it very much being one, for the sake of this post). The answer will become quite a bit clearer on Saturday.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Tyler Toffoli
2nd Star: Trevor Lewis
3rd Star: Scott Gomez