A cold, desperate reality is setting in on the San Jose Sharks. Every year they seem to lift the spirit of their fan base, playing promising hockey down the stretch and into the playoffs. Then, somehow, someway, they run into a different and insurmountable obstacle. After a four-game sweep of the Vancouver Cancuks, the Sharks look revitalized and perhaps ready to make a real push for a Stanley Cup Finals appearance. Maybe the lockout shortened season has the team hot at the right time. Maybe this is their year.
After dropping Game 5 to the Los Angeles Kings 3-0, the window looks like it’s closing yet again.
Although the better team won on Thursday night, the better team probably won’t end up winning this series. The Sharks have been better, although the record doesn’t reflect it. No loss looms larger than Game 2, when a dubious 5-on-3 power play breathed life into the Kings, who scored two goals in a matter of seconds to take a 2-0 series lead. Had the Sharks held on to win that game, they would be going into Game 6 at HP Pavilion with an opportunity to close out Los Angeles once and for all.
Shoulda, woulda, coulda.
San Jose didn’t deserve to win tonight, a lot like the Kings didn’t deserve to win Game 2. If you’re looking for a more suitable comparison, Game 1 is actually the equal. They couldn’t crack Jonathan Quick then, and they couldn’t crack him on Thursday either. Even when the clock was closing in on zero and Pavelski turned a hard pass into a one-timer with a wide open net, the Kings’ netminder added a little insult to injury with his best save of the series. The goal wouldn’t have affected the outcome, but the save certainly punctuated it. Quick finished the night with 29 saves, 13 of which came in the third period, when the Sharks finally decided to put the pressure on.
Quick wasn’t the only problem the Sharks faced. The Kings came out throwing bodies left and right, and the hits never really subsided. Los Angeles did a phenomenal job taking ice away from the Sharks, who barely mustered a scoring chance through almost 30 minutes of hockey. Yet again, Antti Niemi was stellar (two goals allowed on 24 shots against), but this game was over after Anze Kopitar scored near the end of the second period.
The Sharks’ power play struggles continue to haunt them, and none stuck out more than their final opportunity after Joe Thornton
dove got tripped at 10:26 in the third. Nine minutes was plenty of time for San Jose to climb back into the game, especially with the Kings initiating defense mode. But they couldn’t achieve — let alone sustain — offensive possession on the Kings’ penalty kill, and any life left in San Jose’s fight was pretty much gone.
From here on out, it’s sudden death time. The Sharks can push it to a Game 7 with a win at HP Pavilion on Sunday or they can lose and go home. If they get it back to LA, they’ll have to do what’s proven to be impossible: win a game in the Staples Center.
Off the Post
— Remember the Burns-Thornton-Galiardi line I was swooning over after Game 4? Todd McLellan broke it up after an ineffective 40 minutes, moving Galiardi to the third line with Gomez and Wingels while bumping Logan Couture up to skate with Thornton and Burns. Couture’s spot with Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski was filled by James Sheppard, but this had to be a temporary fix. Sheppard was a detriment to an otherwise talented line.
— Speaking of Couture, Joe Micheletti called him “Nathan” at one point during the game. Although I didn’t catch it, he later referred to this team as the “Vancouver Sharks.” I’m not sure what’s more insulting, calling San Jose “Vancouver” or calling San Jose “San Diego,” like another NBC broadcaster did during the 2011 Western Conference Finals.
— At this point, any complaints about Raffi Torres’s suspension will fall on deaf ears. Whether you like it or not, the suspension stands and he is out. That doesn’t discount how much the Sharks miss him in this series, though. According to ESPN.com’s box score, the Kings out-hit the Sharks 51-24. Other than Burns (who should be more focused on scoring than leveling people), San Jose didn’t have an answer for the Kings’ physicality. Torres is a factor the Sharks could really use, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him re-signed during the offseason.
— McLellan tried skating Jason Demers as a winger on the fourth line tonight. It didn’t work.
— Just how ineffective were the Sharks moving the puck? There were 11 icings before the midway point of the game. It’s not a stat you can track down easily (because usually it’s not very significant), but I’d be willing to bet they reached around 20, with the Sharks accounting for at least half of them.
Stuck on 10 wins to go with elimination looming. See you at The Tank on Sunday.