By Allan Muir
Funny how things work out, isn’t it?
Two nights ago, the Los Angeles Kings scored twice when given a late five-on-three advantage to beat the San Jose Sharks in Game 2 of their series.
Tonight, the Sharks were handed the same two-man advantage, and in overtime, no less. The Kings killed off the first penalty, but Logan Couture made them pay for the second, scoring the clincher 1:29 into the extra frame to earn San Jose a 2-1 win in Game 3.
The win cuts Los Angeles’ series lead to 2-1, and gives the Sharks new life with Game 4 coming up Tuesday night in San Jose.
Here are some observations from Saturday night’s thriller:
• There’s bound to be some second-guessing of the penalties that put the Sharks on the five-on-three in OT, especially since the refs put away the whistles for most of the night and let the boys play. From where I was sitting though, these calls were the mark of some gutsy and honest officiating. Robyn Regehr clearly interfered with Tommy Wingels as he cut across the front of the L.A. net at 19:18 of the third, taking away a potential scoring chance. On the ensuing play, Mike Richards and Trevor Lewis set out on a two-on-one shorthanded dash. Lewis drove the net hard and made no effort to avoid a collision with Antti Niemi — another black-and-white play.
Any other time or situation and no one argues either call. But NHL officials typically take context into the equation, often to the detriment of the integrity of the game, and let stuff like this go. Full marks then to Wes McCauley and Marc Joannette for having the courage to make the calls and hold the Kings accountable for a couple of obvious fouls.
• What a gritty effort tonight from Couture. The guy lays out to block a Dustin Brown slap shot during a first-period penalty kill and takes a puck to the wrist that clearly left him hurting. Early in the second he slams awkwardly into the boards, leaving him to limp off the ice while favoring his left leg and leading the Sharks to announce that he was unlikely to return. Instead, he ends up missing most of the period, but comes back in time to lead the team with three takes and goes on to score the OT winner. Just a world-class performance at a time when his team needed him most (and certainly enough to let us overlook that 0-fer-7 effort in the circle).
• While we’re dishing out the glory, let’s offer a little to Patrick Marleau. He set up both San Jose goals tonight with quick, crisp passes to players who were cocked and loaded to shoot. Just a great display of instinctive hockey from the veteran.
• Sharks coach Todd McLellan challenged his team to stop looking for the perfect play and get more pucks on the net. The Sharks responded with 40 shots, their best effort of the series, but quantity didn’t add up to a lot of quality. Although San Jose managed more in-tight chances than in the previous two games, they haven’t found a way to get past the Kings’ crease-sweeping defense or Jonathan Quick’s stellar rebound control to generate the second and third chances they need to stake their claim to this series. Only once did they manage to test Quick in succession, and that was when Joe Pavelski corralled the rebound of an Andrew Desjardins wrister and put a weak backhander on net midway through the second. That’s not good enough. Look for the Sharks to focus on planting more bodies in Quick’s grill in Game 4 in an effort to generate more of those high-return opportunities.
• You rarely hear McLellan’s name mentioned when talk gets around to top coaches, but he proved his value with a masterful job of reworking his lines on the fly. He lost Martin Havlat after one period (presumably to an aggravation of the lower-body injury that kept him on the sidelines until tonight) and both Couture and Scott Hannan for extended stretches, but the Sharks kept pace despite playing with just 10 forwards. Then, with the game on the line, McLellan shortened his bench early in the third to give more ice to the guys who were earning it, and saw his team take control of the better part of the final stanza. Sometimes you push all the right buttons …
• Brent Burns was a man on a mission tonight, hurling his body into anyone wearing white and wreaking havoc in the corners and beside Quick’s net. But when a guy has seven of his nine shot attempts blocked, you have to think there are adjustments to be made. Give credit to the Kings — they were highly effective at getting sticks and legs into the lanes tonight — but their perseverance just means that Burns has to be a little more selective about when to shoot, or a little quicker on the trigger. He has a great wrister, but he’s not getting much out of it so far. If he starts making better decisions, he could be a difference-maker.
• Tyler Toffoli had the Kings’ only goal, capitalizing on a brutal giveaway by Brad Stuart to beat Niemi with a 25-foot backhand midway through the first. While his presence wasn’t as obvious as it was during Los Angeles’ Game 2 win, it was another strong performance from the rookie that highlighted his quickness and puck sense. Still, Darryl Sutter sat him for much of the third period as the coach relied more heavily on his veterans. Wonder if he’ll rethink that approach if he finds himself in a similar situation later in the series.
• Stuart recovered from that turnover to play a solid game. He blocked four shots and was credited with five hits, none bigger than the Kronwallian clobbering he put on Justin Williams. The shoulder-to-chest missile left Williams dazed and set the tone for the rest of the team as San Jose ramped up its physical play. The Sharks outhit the Kings for the first time this series, 41-34, and their aggression kept the HP Pavilion crowd buzzing. “It was huge,” Joe Thornton said of Stuart’s hit. “You could just feel the building get electric. He’s done it all year for us.”