At least when the Sharks blew their first opportunity to close out the Kings, Thursday night in Los Angeles, they outplayed their opponent and were foiled by poor goaltending and fluky bounces. That wasn't anything close to the case tonight as San Jose lost 3-0 at home to L.A. in Game 5, meaning they'll have to wrap this series up in Southern California on Monday or face a scenario that seemed unthinkable in the aftermath of Patrick Marleau's Game 3 overtime winner: a deciding Game 7.
But just as concerning is how they lost it; they were utterly outplayed in every facet of the game as the Kings outshot the Sharks 18-6 en route to a 2-0 lead in the first period and never really took their foot off the gas pedal. This was truly the L.A. team most were expecting the Sharks to face coming into this series as they bottled the Sharks up in the neutral zone, were relentless with their offensive-zone forecheck to sustain pressure and allowed next-to-nothing defensively. As much as it's easy to say the Sharks didn't show up tonight —certainly fair to some extent—the reality might be that the Kings finally did show up, a scary proposition for San Jose as they'll try a third time Monday night to finish them off.
Of course, far worse than the Sharks' loss on the scoreboard was their loss on the ice: 14 minutes into the first period, Kings center Jarret Stoll was assessed a roughing minor after elbowing San Jose defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic in the head. Vlasic didn't return to the game and I don't think it's hyperbolic to say the Sharks' playoff chances are toast, regardless of whether they squeak out another win in this series, if he's out of the lineup long-term. The Sharks have no defensive depth to begin with, particularly on the left side where the corpses of Brad Stuart and Scott Hannan patrol the blueline, and losing their best defenseman by far would be a death blow.
Despite everything, the Sharks are, at least mathematically, still in the driver's seat in this series. They have three wins while the Kings have two. They have two chances to win this series while the Kings are done if they can't manufacture a victory on Monday. But after a horrendous performance on home-ice that saw San Jose get outshot 41-30 despite trailing nearly the entire game, that saw them control just 25% of 5-on-5 shot attempts when the score was close, that saw their starting goaltender chased from the net 22 seconds into the second period, that saw them blow five power play opportunities, that saw their coaching staff panic and go full line-blender for most of the game and that, overall, saw the Sharks bring their worst effort of the year to a terrific opportunity to close out this series...it's hard not to let that familiar playoff malaise seep back in. Goddamnit I hate hockey.
- While you're parceling out blame for this one, don't spare Todd McLellan who, for a fleeting moment in the first period, assembled sensible line combinations (Raffi Torres was briefly on the third line with Joe Pavelski and Tommy Wingels) before revealing that was simply a lucky spin on the combo wheel as a Mike Brown/Patrick Marleau/Wingels combination made an appearance not long afterwards. I realize line juggling is about the only in-game response a coach has when his team gets shelled like the Sharks did in the first period tonight but it seemed like there was zero thought put into the revamped lines despite San Jose having plenty of time to get back into the game. The result was an inability by any of the various forward permutations we saw to manufacture on-ice chemistry.
- McLellan also benched Tomas Hertl for nearly the entire third period, as the rookie forward played a little under three minutes in the final frame. He was also taken off the power play in the second period. What did Hertl do to deserve it? I have no clue, unless you hold accidentally tripping over the blueline on the Anze Kopitar goal, a total fluke play, against him. I'm sure we'll see lineup changes heading into Game 6 but I'm terrified one of them is going to be something absurd like sitting Hertl for Bracken Kearns instead of something productive like scratching Mike Brown and Andrew Desjardins for Marty Havlat and Tyler Kennedy. The Sharks sure could have used those players' offense when down three goals instead of Mike Brown's...uh, whatever the fuck he's here for.
- The big lineup decision, of course, will be in net. It's hard to fault Antti Niemi on the Kopitar or Jeff Carter goals, the latter of which deflected off Stuart and in, but the reality is that he now has an ugly .882 SV% in this series. With the exception of overtime in Game 3, he hasn't been there when the Sharks have faltered. Granted, goalies shouldn't be judged on five-game sample sizes and Niemi is still very likely the superior option in net but after Alex Stalock was terrific in mop-up duty, the question will be asked repeatedly over the next 48 hours.
- As despondent as this recap has been, the odds are still heavily tilted in the Sharks' favor. Even if they can't win on Monday, they earned the right to play Game 7 on home ice, where tonight was their first playoff loss since 2012. Losing Vlasic for any stretch of time is devastating but it doesn't preclude the Sharks from getting lucky and/or playing well enough to win one out of two games. Still, this loss was as gut-wrenching as they come for a number of reasons.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Justin Williams
2nd Star: Jonathan Quick
3rd Star: Anze Kopitar