Antti Niemi

Sharks fend off Kings’ comeback in wild series opener

Joe Thornton San Jose SharksBuckle up, Sharks fans — this series is going to be one for the ages.

For the first 40 minutes of this game, the Sharks looked like a team capable of finally winning the Stanley Cup Final. They scored five unanswered goals, chased Jonathan Quick into holding a clipboard and thoroughly dominated the Los Angeles Kings. Then they got complacent.

A 6-3 win is nothing to sneeze at, and you can’t fault San Jose for getting back on their heels a little and playing defense with a five-goal cushion. But one of the biggest challenges that comes with facing a division rival is that they know you all too well. The Kings capitalized on one of the Sharks’ biggest downfalls, and they almost made Game 1 of this Western Conference Quarterfinal a complete disaster.

Doubters wondered whether the Sharks would be able to match physicality with the Kings, and they certainly did that during the first and second periods. That physical play paid off in spades: five goals, including one from each of their forward lines and a bonus score from Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Point to the power outage or the silent warmups if you will; the Sharks won this game because they out-hit and out-skated a team that pretty much everyone believed was superior with the body.

Todd McLellan did a great job of spreading the scoring out across all four lines: Burns-Thornton-Pavelski is All-NHL and so is Marleau-Couture-Nieto. But despite getting a score from Tomas Hertl in the first period of his first career playoff game, I tend to agree with @fearthefin when he says the third line, centered by James Sheppard, needs to be dismantled. That line was the weakest link in the Sharks’ third period unraveling. Even after getting a score from Raffi Torres, the Sharks can afford to move his offense to the third line if it solves the problem that Sheppard’s trio is currently causing. The fourth line will hit plenty hard without him.

Health will be a key for this team. It was clear early on that if the Sharks stay at #FullSquad, they can beat any of the teams left in the tournament. Sometimes the addition of players shows up on the tape before it shows up on the box score, but in the case of Hertl and Torres Thursday night, it showed up on both. Hertl’s offensive prowess can’t be denied, and watching the way he responded in his first playoff game was eye-opening. The kid’s success is way beyond fluke territory at this point in time. No stage is too big for Tomas Hertl. His future lacks a ceiling.

And as for Torres … Well, we’ve seen him lift his former teams past the Sharks before. It’s time he does it for the Bay Area.

Off the Post (These are the GIFs you’ve been waiting for)

— I can only provide what certain highlight outlets offer, and some of the highlights from this game were missing. With that in mind, here are the GIFs that I could make for you guys:

The scrum that sums up the series:

Hertl’s first career playoff goal:

Good ol’ Gutless:

Welcome back Raffi:

— You wonder if this series is going to be physical? The score sheet registered 121 combined hits. Those are insane numbers. Whatever team emerges from this series victorious better hope they also emerge alive.

— Hats off to a great game from Antti Niemi. For once, you simply can’t blame him for the third period stutters. The Sharks laid off and got sloppy. Niemi didn’t give up a truly soft goal all game long.

— As unimpressive as Niemi has been, McLellan’s decision to start him was the right one. It’s easier to turn to your backup if your veteran falters, and so far, Niemi has risen to the occasion.

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