There’s more than one way to get to a Game 7. Sometimes teams collapse, sometimes teams rise up. Sometimes teams trade punches in each other’s buildings. The Sharks and the Kings didn’t use any of those routes to get to Game 7. They did it by being the perfect pair.
Seeding systems in hockey don’t always work, especially when you’re dealing with a shortened season. The Anaheim Ducks didn’t deserve the second seed — they were a longer-than-usual early-season anomaly, and they were starting to cool off once they’d clinched the Pacific Division. The Red Wings didn’t deserve to be the seventh seed — they knocked out those anomalous Ducks and now they’re giving the Blackhawks all they can handle.
For San Jose and Los Angeles, however, the seedings fell correctly. They sat right next to one another with the fifth and sixth seeds, one final game determining home ice advantage should the two face each other in the tournament. Neither team lost to the other in their home buildings during the regular season, and through six games in their Semifinals series, this phenomenon stands.
It isn’t the crowds
…carrying their home teams to victory. At least from the television side, the Staples Center has been underwhelming. HP Pavilion hasn’t been its most impressive, either. I suppose facing an 0-2 hole for the first two games and elimination in the third will do that to the fans. On Sunday, The Tank was filled with a battle-weary fanbase who has experienced more failure than they’d care to admit. Sure, it got loud, but the tension in HP Pavilion was palpable, all the way until the clock struck zero on an anything-but-comfortable 2-1 victory.
None of the players in the postgame locker room had much explanation for it either, but the answer seems rather obvious. You’re looking at a classic Stanley Cup series in the making, regardless of which team emerges victorious. Top line to bottom, these teams are dead even. Antti Niemi and Jonathan Quick could switch jerseys and most wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. They match physicality with speed, and while winners have emerged, six games have yet to prove either team is vastly superior.
It will all be decided on Tuesday night. The Sharks have forced a Game 7.
Off the Post
— After getting moved in Game 5, TJ Galiardi returned to his spot on the top line and he notched the game-winning goal in the second period. He received a long pass from Scott Hannan and broke into the Kings zone, using the defenseman as a screen for a wrist shot deposited over Quick’s shoulder. Galiardi seemed almost surprised to see it go in, but he assured us after the game he knew what he was doing.
— Adam Burish returned for the first time in this series after an injury in Game 4 of the Quarterfinals sidelined him. The Sharks have been hurting for depth at forward, to the point they had Demers skating at forward in Game 5. As hard as I’ve been on Burish this season, he brought a little extra punch to the fourth line and lifted the penalty kill, which blanked the Kings on both of their opportunities.
— Todd McLellan said before the game he wanted the Sharks’ power play unit to score at a 20% clip, and he got his wish. The Sharks went 1-for-5 on the man-advantage, with the one coming on a first period 5-on-3. He told us he was happy with the effort, but they’d have to do better in Game 7. I’m inclined to agree. The team is still passing the puck far too much and struggling to set up on zone entries. The Kings’ special teams units have been better than the Sharks so far, especially in Los Angeles.
— Now that I’ve gotten my jabs in on the special teams, let’s praise the first period score. Joe Thornton was the man to put it in the net, but it was a slam dunk thanks to the patience of Joe Pavelski, who held the puck for at least five seconds beside the net before slipping the puck through the legs of a defender. Thornton received the pass, at which point he could comfortably take his time. Quick was counting on his defense to prevent the pass, so he was sprawled out before Thornton roofed the shot.
— At some point I’ll come to accept the way San Jose defends (rather than pads) one-goal leads in the third period. The second period was one of the most physical 20 minutes of hockey I’d seen at HP Pavilion yet, but both teams laid back on the body in the third period. The Sharks barely bothered to attack at all. They played stiff defense and soft-dumped the puck every chance they got. It worked, so I suppose I have no complaints.
— Thornton had a chance to pad the lead with less than a minute left and Quick out of the net. He passed it instead.
Nine wins to go.