Four months and three days after sustaining a knee injury in a collision with Kings captain Dustin Brown on Staples Center ice that knocked him out of the lineup long-term, Sharks rookie Tomas Hertl returned to Los Angeles for the first time in Game 3 of San Jose's first-round series with the Kings. His act of vengeance? Scoring the tying goal in the third period on a scramble in the crease that saw his third consecutive shot sneak past Jonathan Quick. That goal, which evened the score at 3, set the table for—who else?—Patrick Marleau to once again shove it up the backside of his many detractors with another enormous overtime winner.
Marleau's goal was the 60th of his illustrious postseason career, five more than any other NHLer has scored in the playoffs since Marleau entered the league, and gave the Sharks a 3-0 stranglehold on their series. They'll have a chance to do the unthinkable and sweep L.A. on Thursday night. Of course, they arguably already accomplished the unthinkable by winning a game at Staples Center, something they hadn't done in regulation or overtime since Joe Thornton's memorable series-winner in 2011.
This wasn't nearly as dominant a performance as the Sharks' first two victories, and no one should have expected it to be. With the luxury of last change, Darryl Sutter juggled his lines into more palatable combinations and the Kings played not only like a team on the ropes, but like the team everyone anticipated they would be coming into the series. They were suffocating on the forecheck and hemmed the Sharks in their zone for lengthy stretches of the first period but to San Jose's credit they didn't give up a whole lot in terms of quality chances and scored the lone goal of the opening frame, a Brent Burns change-up on the power play.
L.A. would capitalize on a man-advantage of their own with Jarret Stoll cashing in a one-time pass from Tyler Toffoli to pull the Kings even less than five minutes into the second period. Marian Gaborik staked the Kings to their first lead of the night by cutting to the net against Scott Hannan on a 3-on-2 and firing a backhander past Antti Niemi. Matt Nieto, who has arguably been the Sharks' best player through three games, answered by deflecting a Jason Demers shot to the back of the net. San Jose came on afterwards, stringing together several dominant shifts before a tripping penalty on James Sheppard put them back on the penalty kill.
Anze Kopitar would score on the tail end of that power play early in the third period, setting the table for Hertl and Marleau's heroics. With a power play expiring in the middle of the third, Marc-Edouard Vlasic fired a shot from the left faceoff circle that dropped in front of Quick for Hertl to whack away at and finally squeak by the Kings goaltender. The Sharks had terrific chances to win it in regulation, including an attempt by Brent Burns that resulted in a miraculous glove save by Quick, and were even on the power play to close the third after Stoll was finally called for one of his slew of borderline hits on the evening. But Quick managed not to play like complete dogshit for once in this series long enough to force overtime.
And it was all Kings in the extra session. Tyler Toffoli and Dwight King had two grade-A chances and the Kings seemingly spent the first five and a half minutes of overtime camped in the Sharks' zone but Niemi stood tall and, as these things often go (although, usually, against San Jose), the Sharks scored on their only shot attempt. Joe Pavelski, out on a shift with Marleau and Logan Couture in an attempt by Todd McLellan to stabilize things as the Sharks were being dominated, tipped a puck to Marleau in the left faceoff circle whose backhand shot deflected off Slava Voynov and past Quick.
4-3 Sharks in the hockey game, 3-0 Sharks in the series. This is dream.
- Kudos to Todd McLellan for trolling the hell out of Darryl Sutter (and just about everyone else) heading into this game. After a dominant Game 2 played primarily as the team's third-line center, Joe Pavelski was back on the top line at morning skate as well as in the starting lineup. That lasted for all of one shift before the line combinations reverted to what they were during the Game 2 comeback.
- This game actually featured the lowest save percentage Antti Niemi has posted so far in this series but he was called upon to make some incredibly difficult saves, particularly in overtime, and was up to the task. Goaltending hasn't exactly been a hallmark at either end of the rink through three games but there's no question Niemi has outplayed Jonathan Quick.
- As expected, Sutter mainly matched Anze Kopitar up against Thornton's line while the newly-constructed Toffoli/Carter/Lewis combination saw a lot of Logan Couture. Defenseman Drew Doughty also notably saw the bulk of his even-strength ice time played behind Kopitar, a shift from the games in San Jose where Sutter attempted to shelter the Voynov pairing as much as possible by pairing them with the Kings' top line.
- The most pressing concern now for the Sharks is that of Justin Braun's health. He appeared to leave the game with an injury in overtime but was back on the ice for the final shift of the game when Marleau scored. Hopefully that means he'll be good to go for Game 4 but you never quite know in the playoffs.
- It doesn't really need to be said but this series isn't over. The Red Wings pushed the Sharks to seven games after falling in a 0-3 hole back in 2011 and this Kings team is far better than that iteration of Detroit. And as much as you can point to this as the sort of deflating loss that leaves a team apathetic, Game 3 of the Red Wings series was very much the same way; Dan Boyle tied that game late in the third and Devin Setoguchi won it in overtime with the Sharks outplayed for long stretches. Not trying to rain on the parade here but it isn't over until Dustin Brown knees someone in the handshake line.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Patrick Marleau
2nd Star: Tomas Hertl
3rd Star: Drew Doughty