Sharks the Kings of overcoming adversity tonight, defeat Los Angeles 6-3
It started off with a Scott Parse goal off a botched clear by Patrick Marleau with five minutes remaining in the first period.
It ended with a tenacity HP Pavilion hadn't seen yet this season, as the Sharks overcame every single hand they were dealt to overcome the Western Conference's best team this year by a tune of 6-3.
Ryane Clowe, Torrey Mitchell, Scott Nichol, Patrick Marleau, Dany Heatley, and Joe Pavelski all contributed in the goal department for San Jose, but make no mistake-- it was a complete team effort from the blueline to the forwards, the building to the bench. As "Beat LA!" cascaded down from the rafters in the waning seconds of the third, and the raspy growl of the game winning fog horn began to creep into the collective consciousness of Sharks fans across North America, it was apparent that this was the best effort the team has displayed this season.
In a word? Electrifying.
"They've reset the bar, and they did it themselves. LA is obviously the measuring tool in our conference, maybe in the league. We competed very hard against them," Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan said following the victory. "It just goes to show if we play the right way and execute properly, we have the ability to do it. I was asked this morning if we had the right pieces, and I think our players proved that they are the right pieces. It's just a matter of getting it done on a nightly basis."
Getting it done on a nightly basis has been the buzzword on Fear The Fin for the better part of the year-- with consistency an early issue for the team, even in a win against the New York Islanders, we saw this game as a litmus test for the Sharks. They had yet to win three games in a row, and despite outshooting teams heavily, hadn't found that perfect cocktail of hard work blending in with tangible results.
As Scott Nichol explained, some games bring out the fire more than others.
Something that the Sharks were well equipped to handle.
"They're the big dogs, the hottest team in the NHL. I think any divisional game does that, teams like Anaheim, Dallas, and we can't forget about Colorado even though they aren't in our division," Nichol said. "The year is starting to pick up now, you're not ten or nine games in. Now we all know the system, know how we should be playing, and executing and getting into good habits."
Those good habits were all over the board tonight-- the blueline played a strong game, challenging the Kings entries into the zone and displaying a very aggressive style during both even strength and penalty kill play. The forwards were able to chip the puck in and compete down deep, with the second line of Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, and Ryane Clowe picking up where they left off Tuesday. At the beginning of the first period the breakout had some trouble getting the puck up the ice, with Los Angeles sealing the boards well, but as the game progressed the Sharks adjusted their game and pushed the Kings on to their heels in the neutral zone.
"They beat us here tonight," Kings Head Coach Terry Murray said. "They beat us in the transition game and our management of the puck from the red line to the top of the circle."
The Kings struck first, with roughly four and a half minutes remaining in the first period. Dustin Brown blew past Sharks defenseman Kent Huskins in the neutral zone, and as the puck went into the crease, an attempted clear by San Jose went off the skate of Patrick Marleau. But the Sharks would respond in the minutes following, with Ryane Clowe and Torrey Mitchell scoring a goal apiece before intermission.
Scott Nichol would go on to notch his fiftieth career goal halfway through the second period. Corralling a shot from Sharks defenseman Derek Joslin, Nichol spun around and put it just over the glove of Kings goaltender to give the Sharks a 3-1 advantage.
Three minutes later San Jose had appeared to have extended their lead to 4-1.
However, the goal was waived off due to the fact that Ryan Smyth had put the puck in over the goal line nearly two minutes beforehand. The officials had missed Smyth's tally and let play continue, and when Torrey Mitchell ripped a piece of vulcanized rubber past Bernier on a breakaway, the Tank exploded.
Mitchell, however, had his suspicions on whether his goal would actually count. As well as light-hearted suspicions on whether or not young teammate Jason Demers was aware of the rules of hockey.
"His reaction [Smyth's] looked like it was a goal. It was almost like 'Alright let's get a whistle and get this over with'," Mitchell said. "Then I got the breakaway and I was like I don't get many breakaways so I'm going to try and bury this (laughs)."
"I still had to do the celebration too you know? Even though I thought it might not count, I was enjoying the moment. And then I saw Demers flying in and jump on me and I was like 'Do you know the rules man? It's not going to count' (laughs). And he was like 'Yeahhh!'. So I took it with a grain of salt, enjoyed it for a couple seconds, and then we got back to work."
That reversal of fortunes turned the tide for the Kings, as they came back in the last seven minutes of the second period and began to take it to San Jose. But Sharks netminder Antero Niittymaki held strong in his crease throughout the remainder of the game, making excellent save upon excellent save off deflections in tight, showcasing his athletic ability with quick post to post movement.
He was stellar in the win, making 32 saves.
Patrick Marleau would score early in the third period, pouncing on a juicy rebound like a lion hunting it's prey. The Kings would respond however, pulling within one, off a nice deflection from Jarret Stoll at the top of the crease. Los Angeles did an excellent job of creating traffic in front of Niittymaki tonight, but he would continue to hold the fort and allow San Jose to put the final nails in the coffin.
Faced with adversity once again, the Sharks would push the lead to two a mere minute after Los Angeles' goal. A Kings clear was knocked out of the air by the deft stickwork of Kent Huskins, who whipped a pass to Dany Heatley between the circles. Heatley put it through traffic on a seeing eye shot, and the Kings wouldn't be able to recover.
Joe Pavelski would add the final tally for the Sharks, scoring at 16:08 on the power play. That makes the second goal in as many games for the 26 year old center, a player we highlighted before this streak as one who was doing all the right things but just not catching any breaks. If Calgary and Los Angeles are any indication, Pavelski's recent turn of fortune could mean a monster year is right around the corner for the team leader in shots on goal.
A successful bid at winning three games in a row for the first time this season? Check. A gutty performance against a Division rival? Check. Beating one of the NHL's best teams right now where every player up and down the roster contributed?
Check, check, and check.
The win was a huge one for the Sharks, and as Fear The Fin writer Ivan Makorov mentioned on Twitter following the tilt, it was the most exciting Sharks game since the series clincher against the Detroit Red Wings in May of 2010.
Tonight was a statement for San Jose.
And a resounding one at that.