It was everything you expect from a Sharks-Kings matchup: Low-scoring, tight-checking and fast-paced. The only difference was this game was not in the comfortable confines of SAP or Staples, but rather in the middle of Levi’s Stadium with no roof overhead, in front of a whopping 70,205 people.
“I caught myself looking up to see the big screen, and there was nothing but stars,” Joe Thornton chuckled afterwards. “From start to finish — what an atmosphere. A once-in-a-lifetime type thing for us.”
The atmosphere makes the pill of a loss a little tougher to swallow. After gaining momentum in the second frame and keeping things close, the Sharks were edged by the rival Kings 2-1 and wouldn’t make the playoffs if the season ended on Saturday night.
“It hurts,” Thornton said. “With this atmosphere you want to win and you want to leave this room happy. Just a good game, we just couldn’t find the back of the net the second time.”
Both teams appeared to get more adjusted to the rink as the sun went down, and the pace really picked up as San Jose tied the game and upped the electricity of the tight-knit battle. But when the opposition went up a goal to open up the third frame, it took just enough wind out of the Sharks sails to make it difficult to tie things back up.
“I think we got a little down there,” Tommy Wingels muttered. “It wasn’t like the game got away from us, it was a one-goal game at the point. Unfortunately, not many scoring chances came after that for some reason.”
Todd McLellan, always one to point out when the team doesn’t play well, was pleased with the overall product when he took the podium to discuss how his team played in NorCal’s big event.
“We’re disappointed in the outcome. I’m not disappointed in the effort in what our group put into the game,” the coach deduced.
He also admitted that being bumped from the playoff picture can’t go ignored: “Every game is really, really important … These were two really important points.”
Like so many other games that have taken place on the Sharks “home ice” as of late, the visitors got on the board first. Kyle Clifford deflected a Jake Muzzin shot up high to give LA a 1-0 lead in the first frame. But the Sharks knotted it up before the 20 was over. Tommy Wingels off the faceoff past the puck back to Brent Burns whose snipe shot beat Quick at an absurd angle to tie the tilt up 1-1 with 1:04 left in the frame.
With a knotted score the second 20 minutes was much more chippy, albeit neither team finding the back of the net.
To open up the final frame, Burns lost the puck in the neutral zone to Marion Gaborik. His shot from the top left circle should have been safe in Niemi’s glove, but instead found the back of the goal to put the visiting Kings ahead 2-1. No. 31 admitted afterward that the glare off the outdoor ice made the shot a bit harder to see. “It’s a little different … especially the high (shots),” said Niemi, who noted that the “lighting” made it hard to see.
While the ice tilted back in LA’s favor and the puck spent a significant amount of time in the Sharks defensive zone, Niemi didn’t let anything by him again. Unfortunately, the offense, while creating some choice chances, couldn’t solve Quick. Even with the advantage of getting a mid-period power play, San Jose didn’t score again. Time wound down, and the Sharks chances at notching any points on the evening slipped away.
Did the grandeur of being under the Stadium Series spotlight make the points on the table on Saturday night even more important?
“You know, we wanted to win, but we wanted to win in Nashville the other night and there were 7,000 people because of a storm. So the win is really important for the team, and that type of stuff,” said McLellan.
“But maybe this was a little more significant, obviously because … this was our show. These were our fans. This is Sharks Territory, if you want, that’s probably the best way to put it.”
— Tommy Wingels logged a game-high 11 hits, tied for second in regular season outdoor NHL game history, and two off the record set by Scott Hartnell of the Flyers in the 2012 NHL Classic at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.
— The Sharks and Kings combined for 94 hits (SJ: 49, LA: 45) setting a record for a regular season outdoor NHL game.