Streaking Kings spoil Sharks’ outdoor party

With the stage set, the atmosphere vibrant, and the standings tight, the Sharks were edged 2-1 by the Kings in the Stadium Series on Saturday night.

It was the Sharks’ sixth straight home loss and the Kings’ seventh win in a row, as the Kings leapfrogged the Sharks for the second Wild Card spot.

Marian Gaborik netted the game-winner for the Kings at the 4:04 mark of the third period. Skating into the zone, Gaborik’s slap shot eluded Antti Niemi to put the Kings ahead 2-1. Despite having no traffic in front of him, Niemi was unable to make the save.

Head coach Todd McLellan was upbeat despite the loss:

“We were disappointed in the outcome. I’m not disappointed in the effort and what our group put into the game. We would have preferred to win.  It was a hard-fought game by two good teams that played a pretty even match.”

Gaborik’s goal was initiated by a neutral zone turnover — a pass intended for Brent Burns was stolen by Gaborik, who came off the bench and startled Burns — one of many miscues in the center of the ice on the night.

Logan Couture believes it cost them the game:

“The neutral zone was big tonight. The ice wasn’t what we were used to – it was tough to make plays through the neutral zone. The team that played defense won and they did it more than us.”

The Kings came out of the third period firing on all cylinders, recording seven of the period’s first eight shots.

The Sharks had caught a break less than a minute into the period, when Dwight King broke in alone but missed the net wide right.

But little else went their way for the remainder of the game.

Photos by Scot Tucker/SFBay

Dustin Brown tripped Joe Thornton midway through the period, but the Sharks failed to score on the power play, where they were 0-for-3 on the night. Couture, who had many quality scoring chances, had a backhand bid from point blank stopped by Jonathan Quick three minutes later.

With under four minutes to play, Quick allowed a rebound right to the stick of Tommy Wingels, but Wingels was denied as well.

The Sharks failed to equalize, despite pulling Niemi and putting on pressure in the dying seconds. A Brent Burns wrist shot resulted in a wild scramble, but it was all for naught.

Said Wingels:

“I thought we played really hard tonight, but unfortunately you can’t hang your hat on that. You’ve got to look at your team in the mirror and judge yourselves on wins and losses.”

An intense yet scoreless second period set up a 1-1 tie heading into third. The Sharks controlled the period, outshooting the Kings 15-7, but could not take advantage of several quality chances, including two power plays.

Couture, in particular, was unlucky. On the first power play midway through the period, Couture had an empty net to shoot at, but his attempt was blocked by Matt Greene.

Couture said he shot it a little too softly:

“I just tried to throw it in there softly because I knew Quick wasn’t in the net. Anytime you try to shoot the puck too hard on bad ice it’s when it flips up on you.”

Late in the period, Couture was denied again, hitting the crossbar after a turnover in the Kings’ zone.

The Sharks killed off the Kings’ lone power play of the period, as Matt Irwin was sent off for hooking at 13:06.

Thornton reflected on the second period:

“We were hopping good. The first five minutes of the game went their way and then we felt it was turning our way. We were peppering them pretty good in the second but just couldn’t seem to crack it.”

The Kings, who played outdoors at Dodger Stadium last season, looked sharper and more comfortable early on, outshooting the Sharks 9-3 out of the gate.

They struck first less than three minutes in. Jake Muzzin intercepted Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s attempt to clear the zone, and his wrist shot was tipped in by Kyle Clifford to give the Kings a 1-0 lead.

But the Sharks settled down in the latter half of the period, and evened the score with just over a minute to play. After a faceoff win in the offensive zone by Wingels, Burns shot the puck from an odd angle, wide of the circle, and it deflected off of Quick’s blocker and in.

A second goal, however, was elusive, and the Sharks were unable to provide a win for their home fans on a special night. Yet, they still enjoyed the moment and were thankful for the opportunity, raising their sticks to the crowd at game’s end despite the loss.

McLellan described:

“This is Sharks Territory, if you want, that’s probably the best way to put it. They showed up in droves. I know there were Kings fans here, and there were just plain hockey fans. That’s what made tonight so special. The fact we lost was disappointing. But to be part of it — I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Neither would Wingels, who hopes the NHL brings the Stadium Series back to the West Coast:

“This is by far the coolest sporting event I’ve ever been a part of. I hope that the NHL continues to put games out West in California. It’s great for these teams, the fans and everyone involved in hockey. We didn’t get the result we wanted but this will be a memory that we will cherish for a while.”

Notes

The Sharks became the 19th NHL franchise to play in a regular season outdoor game. … Chris Tierney, Mirco Mueller, and Barclay Goodrow were scratched. John Scott returned to the lineup after a four-game absence. … San Jose plays seven of its next eight games at SAP Center. … Kris Allen sang the National Anthem while John Fogerty and Melissa Etheridge performed during intermissions. … Attendance was 70,205, a sellout, and the third largest crowd ever to watch an NHL game.