By Adrian Dater
You knew this was going seven.
The home team had won every game in this Western Conference semifinal series, so it didn’t seem likely that the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings would win Game 6 on Sunday night in San Jose.
The Sharks’ 2-1 victory was an impressive performance, but now all that home-ice mojo goes back with the Kings to the Staples Center for Game 7 on Tuesday night.
T.J. Galiardi’s second-period goal, a wicked wrister from the slot, proved the game-winner, and continued his story of rejuvenation. The former Avalanche winger was nearly out of the league by the start of the year and he was sometimes a healthy scratch by Sharks’ coach Todd McLellan. But Galiardi started showing more fire late in the season, enough for McLellan to gamble on putting him on a line with star center Joe Thornton.
Galiardi has not disappointed. He still doesn’t score a lot, but he has gotten under the Kings’ skin with sandpaper play in front of the net and in the corners. It’s the same kind of playoff performance he had in 2010 for the Avalanche in their first-round series against the Sharks. Galiardi was a big agitating presence against San Jose then, and he’s found that style of play again.
The Sharks just looked like they wanted this game more than the Kings did. They probably did, in truth. The Kings just seem to let it slide a little too much in road games they don’t have to win. Now, the only thing that can save them is that precious home-ice advantage in a final game. But that’s why you play so hard during the regular season, to have that advantage.
Here are some other observations from Game 6:
• Hey, five-on-three power plays are no picnic, but the Kings’ coverage on San Jose’s first goal was brutal. Thornton just stood there wide open at the right side of the net the whole time. Jonathan Quick had no chance because he was busy watching the shooter, like he should have been doing. The Kings’ D should have concentrated on denying Joe Pavelski the crossing pass and let him shoot the puck. It’s always a higher percentage chance that a goalie will make the save to a shot he can see and is set for as opposed to sliding across and having to make a save.
Instead, Pavelski had an easy-as-you-please pass to the glaringly open Thornton for a tap-in shot that made the score 1-0. Jeff Carter was way too high in the slot on the coverage.
• Of course, the hockey purists will scream about that goal because the Sharks got the second man advantage as a result of Anze Kopitar’s accidental flip of the puck into the stands from his own zone.
Enough already. It’s a good rule and it shouldn’t be eliminated. In the old days, players in trouble in their own zone would just shoot the puck into the stands all the time. It was a cheap tactic that rewarded laziness. Yeah, it’s an accident when it happens now, but so what? Keep the puck in play –- it’s a simple rule.
• McLellan was forced to juggle his D-pairs temporarily with the early-game loss of Justin Braun to what looked like a bizarre lower-body injury. Replays showed Braun appeared to suffer the injury while hopping over the boards for a shift. He was averaging a little more than 20 minutes per game in the playoffs, so it was a significant loss. That is, until later in the period, when Braun returned. Gotta love playoff-tough hockey.
• Want to know why the Sharks appeared to have the puck all the time at even strength in the first period? Because they won 11 of the game’s first 13 face-offs.
• That said, Antti Niemi was more than a little lucky in that first period in net. Three of the Kings’ shots rang iron in the period.
• San Jose’s momentum slowed down a lot when the Sharks did nothing on a four-minute power play in the second period. Tommy Wingels had a good scoring chance, but that was about it. The Kings responded with Dustin Brown’s goal a little later.
• Kings’ coach Darryl Sutter elected to use his one timeout with 3:25 left in the second period to rest his players after an icing call. Hard to second-guess him on anything, but that seemed a bit too early to burn it. Yet, the Kings also kept the Sharks off the scoreboard right after that. Still, you hate to be late in a game without a timeout.
• Drew Doughty almost scored before the buzzer in the second period, after Niemi allowed a huge rebound. If that puck goes in, the Sharks are likely hugely deflated going to the third.
• Mike Richards will need to be a lot better than he was for the Kings in Game 6. He had no points, no shots, took a bad hooking penalty in the first period, and threw the puck away with about 40 seconds left in the game, when the Kings looked to be entering the Sharks’ zone with a good head of steam.
• One of the biggest decisions Sutter has ahead of him for Game 7 is whether he should he keep Brown down on the third line or move him back with Kopitar and Justin Williams. Brown has looked pretty good on his new line — scoring L.A.’s only goal in Game 6 — but Kopitar and Williams haven’t seemed as dangerous without Brown’s presence — no disrespect to Kyle Clifford, who played hard. Williams has yet to score a goal in the series.
My view: Time to put all the big guys together for an all-or-nothing game.