If there's anything resembling a positive to the predicament the Sharks currently find themselves in, after losing Game 6 against the Los Angeles Kings by a 4-1 final score, it's that they've been here before. They blew a 3-0 series lead against the Red Wings in 2011 before winning a deciding Game 7 on home ice. They'll have to repeat the feat on Wednesday or risk suffering one of the most devastating playoff series losses in NHL history.
There isn't much else to say about tonight's game, apart from that it ended up serving as the in-hindsight-inevitable precursor to the Sharks either making history in the worst way imaginable or moving on to a second-round series against Anaheim. That overshadows everything that actually transpired on the ice, which was an extremely tightly-contested game until Justin Williams' second goal of the night broke a 1-1 tie with a little over eight minutes remaining in the third period. After a regular season in which the Sharks repeatedly had goals waived off thanks to the dubious "intent to blow" rule, they were intent-to-blown once again as Williams poked a loose puck free from between Alex Stalock's pads after the Sharks goaltender appeared to have frozen it.
It was a controversial goal to be sure but the Sharks just fell apart at the seams afterwards. A poorly-timed line change gave the Kings a 3-on-2 on which Anze Kopitar capitalized before adding another goal on a subsequent power play. And while San Jose controlled the second period, particularly in the aftermath of James Sheppard's tying marker on a deflection midway through, it was all Los Angeles in the third as the Kings team we saw throttle the Sharks in Game 5 were back to their old tricks, making it impossible for San Jose to generate any type of speed coming through the neutral zone.
The idiots peddling the choker narrative will be out in full force on Wednesday but it's worth keeping in mind that it isn't remotely surprising this series is headed to a Game 7. The route it took there sure as hell is, but that's irrelevant now. The Sharks earned the right to play the deciding contest on their home ice and they'll need to take advantage of that as the Kings did against them a season ago.
- Of course it was Justin Williams, again, with the dagger. An underrated move by Darryl Sutter in this series was to swap Williams and Dustin Brown between the first and third lines. Brown isn't capable of elevating a line of grinders like Dwight King and Jarret Stoll to much success but Williams certainly is. He's one of the most underrated players in the NHL and has been ripping it up against weaker competition while Brown hasn't been a detriment with Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik.
- I've been critical of Todd McLellan's decisions throughout this series but scratching Mike Brown for Marty Havlat was certainly the right move to make, as were each of the pairings he iced in Marc-Edouard Vlasic's absence. There was a report earlier in the day that the dreaded Hannan/Stuart tandem was slated to rear its ugly head but instead McLellan went with what are undoubtedly the optimal duos on a Vlasic-less blueline: Irwin with Boyle, Stuart with Braun and Hannan with Demers.
- The biggest boost Havlat in the lineup over Brown provided was to the fourth line, who truly had their first impact game of the series. Sure they scored twice in Game 2 but they also spent the majority of that contest in their own end, failing to get the puck out. Sheppard, Andrew Desjardins and Raffi Torres dominated possession despite starting zero shifts in the offensive zone and scored the team's only goal.
- I say that was the biggest boost largely because Havlat, Joe Pavelski and Tommy Wingels were awfully unimpressive as a line. They were burned on both Williams goals and spent the bulk of the game chasing the puck in their own end even with the most favorable zone starts on the team. I still think Raffi Torres is the correct fit with Pavelski and Wingels but Havlat (or Tyler Kennedy) should absolutely be playing over Brown, who I hope to never see again in a Sharks sweater.
- Hard to fault surprise starter Stalock on any of the goals...but it was also hard to fault Antti Niemi on any of the goals he gave up in Game 5 save for perhaps Tyler Toffoli's. Stalock's save percentage in this game was an ugly .867 that can't entirely be pinned on him as the Sharks gave up their fair share of odd-man rushes. Niemi is probably the safer bet for Game 7 but it'll be interesting to see who they go with although it's ultimately unlikely to make a huge difference over a single game.
- You wouldn't know it from watching Game 6 but the Sharks have more high-end talent up front than the Kings do. Those guys need to come through on Wednesday as they did in the first three games of this series. I'll be in the corner vomiting into a paper bag.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Justin Williams
2nd Star: Anze Kopitar
3rd Star: Jonathan Quick