It got a little dicey at the end, but the Sharks managed to take game one of their first round playoff series from the Los Angeles Kings 6-3 on Thursday night. Six Sharks scored six goals and Antti Niemi played well enough in goal to see the Sharks to victory. While this game ended up being much closer than any of us would have liked, we can thank the hockey gods that (at least Thursday's) game didn't send us to overtime as was the case in Colorado and St. Louis.
Tomas Hertl and Matt Nieto made their playoff debuts while Mike Brown got the start over Martin Havlat. Joe Pavelski took a wing-spot on the top line while Hertl found himself on the third line with James Sheppard with middling (at best) results. Despite some questionable lineup decisions, the Sharks played one of their best games of the season while the Kings looked as bad as I've ever seen them through the first 40 minutes of play.
After being thoroughly outplayed in their last regular season meeting with the Kings (despite winning, naturally), I had my reservations about just how the Sharks would look in their first postseason game of the year. Thankfully (and, well, naturally) San Jose proved my concerns to be needless, at least for tonight. The score close corsi had the Sharks at a 21-10 advantage and four of San Jose's six goals game in 5v5 action.
A frantic pace to the contest culminated in a Joe-to-Joe goal as a shot from Pavelski was redirected by Joe Thornton to give the Sharks a 1-0 lead just 3:06 in.
A barrage of shots from both teams (nearly 10 total in the first five minutes) was just the start of the fireworks as the ever-useless Mike Brown drove Slava Voynov into Jonathan Quick before falling onto the goaltender himself. Some extracurricular activity took place behind the Los Angeles net as everyone on the ice (excluding Antti Niemi) got involved. No powerplay was awarded, but the tone was set for the rest of the evening.
Both Tomas Hertl and Raffi Torres made their presence known in the first period; Torres stole a foolish pass by Willie Mitchell to earn himself a breakaway on Quick. He missed the net by three feet but demonstrated the explosive speed that Sharks' fans have come to know in the "year" he has been in San Jose. Not long after Torres' missed oportunity Hertl drew a hooking penalty on Drew Doughty and was still able to get a shot on net. The Sharks weren't able to generate any scoring chances on the man-advantage, but both units had great looks.
Hertl took a penalty in the offensive zone later in the period, but more than atoned for it with just a minute remaining in the opening period. He collected a rebound off a shot by James Sheppard and buried it to make it 2-0 San Jose.
The Sharks weren't done yet in the first period. A 2-on-1 break with Patrick Marleau and Matt Nieto developed and was executed to perfection. Marleau passed to Nieto who had a hard time handling the pass but was just able to flick it back to Patty who snapped it by Quick to score the Sharks second goal in 48 seconds and their third in the opening 20 minutes.
Los Angeles got their legs back a bit at the beginning of the second period with plenty of back and forth action, but the Sharks found the back of the net yet again as Marc-Edouard Vlasic hit the post and the rebound was recovered and buried by Hockey World Favorite Raffi Torres. The Kings proceeded to put the Sharks on a powerplay and then a 5-on-3 after a phenomenal save by Antti Niemi who was on his game all night.
Vlasic may have been robbed by the post once, but he wouldn't be denied on his second opportunity. His powerplay goal made it 5-0 San Jose with three minutes to go in the second period; the rout was on, right? Well...
Just two minutes into the final frame, the Kings gave San Jose a reason for concern as Jake Muzzin scored his first ever playoff goal. After a good spell of possession in the Kings' end, Los Angeles drove down the ice and Muzzin was able to slip one by Niemi, thus ending the shutout. Tyler Toffoli would make things even more interesting just a few minutes later, and just like that it was 5-2 with 13 minutes to go.
As these things seem to go, the Sharks weren't quite done making it interesting. A bizarre deflection off of Trevor Lewis from a Jeff Carter shot cut the Sharks lead to just two goals and the panic train was fast approaching the station. With six minutes to go San Jose had to do what they had done the first 45 minutes, or, at least something better than what they had done in the past 10.
- Both Hertl and Torres scored tonight, but that Sheppard line was, ah, bad tonight. Any chance we see Hertl on the top line and Pavelski centering the third in game two?
- Antti Niemi played well for 40 minutes tonight and while had a rough go of it in the middle of the third period, I was pretty happy with his game. That third goal in particular had nothing to do with Nemo and everything to do with a flukey deflection.
- While the end of the game got way more interesting than any of us would have wanted, I also can't say I expected the Sharks to come out and dominate the Kings the way they did Thursday night.
- Martin Havlat was benched for Mike Brown tonight. At this point in the season I don't think if I need to add anything to that to demonstrate my frustration with that coaching decision.
- The Kings showed a hell of a lot of fight in that third period. This is going to be a much closer series than what we saw tonight (stating the obvious, I know).
- Hertl was very impressive in his playoff debut -- can't over-emphasize how great it is to have that kid back on the ice.
- Not much more to say about this one. Sharks got the first win out of the way, they've got another to nab on Sunday.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Brent Burns
2nd Star: Marc-Edouard Vlasic
3rd Star: Joe Pavelski