By Adrian Dater
The Los Angeles Kings are one win away from their second straight Western Conference finals appearance, which puts them in striking distance of doing what they say can’t be done in this age of NHL parity: win back-to-back Stanley Cups.
Not since Detroit in 1997 and 1998 has a team repeated the feat, but the Kings are now nine wins away.
In Game 5’s 3-0 victory over the San Jose Sharks at the Staples Center on Thursday night, goaltender Jonathan Quick kept alive his bid to accomplish something that has only been done twice in the history of the sport: win two straight Conn Smythe trophies (goalie Bernie Parent of the Flyers in 1974 and ’75, and Penguins great Mario Lemieux in 1991 and ’92 are the two repeat postseason MVPs).
Quick saved his best for last: a glove-hand robbery of Joe Pavelski with 39.5 seconds left in regulation, a ridiculous stop that helped earn him an honor as the game’s No. 1 star.
Anze Kopitar, who scored the game-winner, summed up the game to the NBC Sports Network as “Probably our best game of the playoffs so far. We all realize they have lots of players who can make good plays, but when you can limit their time and space it makes it hard for them.”
Other observations from Game 5:
• Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi lost his stick prior to a goal by Kopitar – only his second of the playoffs – that broke a scoreless tie late in the second period. But it wasn’t really Niemi’s fault. Teammate Matt Irwin – trying to cut across the crease to check Justin Williams’ wraparound attempt – accidentally kicked the stick out of Niemi’s left hand. That led to chaos in front of the net, as Irwin handed his lumber to Niemi.
There are only a few things more awkward-looking than a goalie with a regular stick in his hands: A middle-aged man in a Speedo, me on the phone asking a girl on a date (circa 1980s), etc. Irwin was then left to kick his feet and bat his hands in the air, ultimately in futility as the puck bounced in off Kopitar’s stick as Irwin tried to check him off the puck.
It was an accident, but Irwin could have avoided it by skating wider around the crease.
• To that point, I thought San Jose was the better team. Not by much, but enough to where, if they could have just capitalized on an early chance or two, they might have sent the Kings into panic mode. Instead, Quick kept L.A. in it. The Kings got a fortunate goal and the game was essentially over after that. The Sharks continued to play hard, but they’re not a very good team when trying to come from behind.
• I agree, T.J. Galiardi has been better of late, but he’s not a good enough winger to be playing on a line with Joe Thornton. When the Sharks really needed a goal in the final 20 minutes, you got the feeling that Thornton was playing by himself.
• Defenseman Slava Voynov made a great shot to score the Kings’ second goal. His wrister off the rush was perfectly placed to the far post.
• I don’t want to dump on Patrick Marleau, because he’s a tremendous player for a guy in his mid-30s but … his performance in Game 5 won’t silence the smart alecks (hello Jeremy Roenick!) who say that he doesn’t show up in the big games. Marleau had a goal in every game of San Jose’s first-round sweep of Vancouver, but against the Kings through five games? One goal, with no points in the last two.
• The Sharks should have gotten a 5-on-3 midway through the third period. Dustin Brown bowled Niemi over on a short-handed 2-on-1 chance with Justin Williams. Yeah, Brown was nudged by Tommy Wingels on the backcheck, but he’d already made up his mind that he was going to go in feet-first on the goaltender. Brown plays on the edge at all times and is to be admired for that in many ways. But he ran the goalie, no question. A 5-on-3 could have gotten the Sharks back into the game.
• Mike Richards should get an Oscar for the acting job he did to draw a roughing minor on James Sheppard with just under seven minutes left. Either that, or the refs should let playoff hockey play out. It was just a garden variety check into the boards by Sheppard, but Richards turned his back and did the Fosbury Flop to draw the call.
• During a stoppage in play, San Jose’s Scott Gomez was caught talking to Jeff Carter like he was his best buddy. Hey, o friendly fraternization with the opposition in hockey. A long time ago, former Avalanche defenseman Adam Foote told me a story about Brett Hull: he would lull you into friendly conversation during a game, and Foote said it probably caused him to let up on Hull physically at times. Foote lost three Game 7s in his career to Hull – all in the Western Conference Finals (1999, 2000 and 2002). Gomez, by the way, finished with one shot in the game.
• Defensemen Rob Scuderi and Matt Greene were just tremendous as a pair for the Kings. Greene’s late-season return from back surgery might have as much to do with the team still being alive in the playoffs as anything.
• Kyle Clifford did fine on a line with Kopitar and Williams as a replaceement for Dustin Brown, but if the Kings are to win another Cup, you get the feeling that Brown will need to get back with the big boys.
• Home teams are now 14-3 during the conference semi-finals. That’s why I think we’ll see a Game 7 in this series, with Game 6 back at the Shark Tank.