For the Sharks, the bitter taste of the epic debacle of the 2014 postseason lingered far too long.
On Friday night, they put those sour feelings to rest with a 6-3 win over the Kings in Game 5 to advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Joe Thornton, who has felt the pain of many early playoff exits, thinks this team is different:
“We really did believe that this team is a new team. We’ve got so many new faces. We truly believed this was a different year and we proved it.”
To say the Sharks have been a little tired of playing the Kings would be an understatement. Their last 19 playoff games have been against Los Angeles. Six of those have been potential series-clinchers, and prior to Friday at Staples Center, they had dropped the last five.
This one didn’t come easy, as the Sharks blew a 3-0 lead. But with the game even 3-3, they scored three times in the third period, with the game-winner coming early on off the stick of Joonas Donskoi, who converted from point-blank off a feed in front from Brent Burns. Donskoi, a promising rookie, had his coming out party in the playoffs with two goals to send the Sharks to round two.
Head coach Peter DeBoer said:
“It feels great. I haven’t been around for some of the stuff that’s gone on in the past. I’m sure for some guys, they felt like we exorcised some demons tonight but for the group in general, it was just a well-earned victory.”
Joe Pavelski provided some insurance at the 12:24 mark, with his wrist shot sliding past Jonathan Quick‘s legs to give the Sharks a 5-3 advantage. It was a shot Quick typically stops, especially at this stage against this opponent, a sign that the tide may have turned for the Sharks in this California rivalry.
The Kings pulled Quick with four minutes left for an empty net, but could not draw any closer. Melker Karlsson, in fact, added an empty net goal to conclude matters.
Pavelski spoke to how the Sharks weathered the storm in the third:
“Guys stepped up. They really did. We just really stuck to our game. We haven’t labored very much. It’s something we don’t want to see but we expect a little adversity throughout these playoffs. We handled it well tonight and responded.”
It was a tale of two halves, as the Sharks controlled play and were cruising along to begin.
Four minutes into the second period, the Sharks took a 3-0 lead courtesy of Matt Nieto. A pretty passing play started behind the net by Logan Couture, who fed Joel Ward with a backhand feed, and Ward shoveled it to an open Nieto for a tap-in.
“One of our big themes for the series was to get off to good starts and we did it again tonight.”
Patrick Marleau had a penalty shot opportunity a few minutes later, but was denied by Quick.
And then the Kings came roaring back.
Less than eight minutes into the period, Drew Doughty’s shot was re-directed in by the skate of Anze Kopitar, cutting the Sharks’ lead to 3-1. Midway through the second, Jeff Carter roofed a point-blank chance after Jake Muzzin found him right in front, making it a one-goal game.
And with less than five minutes to play, Kris Versteeg sent the Staples Center crowd into a frenzy with the tying goal, cleaning up the rebound after a slap shot by Kyle Clifford hit hard off the post.
Martin Jones, who made 19 saves, was not surprised by the Kings’ barrage of goals:
“They’re a team that doesn’t quit. They don’t roll over for anybody, so it was expected to get a push from them.”
But he settled down, and so did his teammates in front of him.
Pavelski, the captain, addressed the locker room before the third period, beseeching them to stay in the moment:
“The message was more about, ‘We’re here. We’re in this position. It doesn’t really matter how we got here … You win a period and close out the series.’ Guys grasped on that and went out.”
It was an auspicious start for the Sharks, who didn’t take long to strike first. Just a little over a minute into the game, Donskoi found the back of the net with a wrist shot after a beautiful toe drag past the sliding Jake Muzzin to give the Sharks a 1-0 lead.
The Finnish product is not known for his flashy goals, but the fourth-liner spoke about his surprising heavy contributions tonight:
“Of course you want to score, but I don’t think I’m the kind of player who lives by scoring. I try to play both ways. We can’t only lay on our first line guys so we have to get goals from all four lines.”
The Kings countered with a couple of quick chances and some momentum with a 5-on-3 penalty kill. But it was the Sharks who recorded the next goal as well. Chris Tierney capped off a strong shift by the fourth line with his first goal since February 13, which beat Quick thanks to a screen by Tommy Wingels.
It was part of a dominant start for the Sharks, who outshot the Kings 13-4 in the first period. They capped it off with a penalty kill toward the end of the period in which they did not allow the Kings a single shot on net.
Though the series is over, there will surely be no love lost between the rivals. Couture noted that some players on the Kings have been disrespectful of the Sharks throughout the past few years:
“Even this series, someone was saying on their team that they had us right where they wanted us. I wonder if they’ve got us where they want us right now, so it was nice to beat them.”
The Sharks play the winner of the Anaheim-Nashville series in the second round.