Based on recent history, one would imagine the Los Angeles Kings would be the more poised team and take both games at Staples Center to kick off the first-round series against the Sharks — not the other way around.
Indeed, it was the Sharks — perennial poor playoff performers — who showed control over the two-time Stanley Cup champions, clamping down on defense and swarming the Kings for a 2-1 win on Saturday night to take a 2-0 series lead.
Head coach Peter DeBoer praised his team for not backing down from a Kings team looking to impose its will after a Game 1 loss:
“It was a hard-fought game. It was a man’s game out there. A lot of physical contact, a lot of battles. Two teams fully invested. Our guys really did a good job showing up and playing that type of game.”
The Sharks took advantage of the flustered Kings team. With San Jose up 1-0 midway through the second period, the Kings committed two penalties on the same sequence; Milan Lucic was called for charging and Tyler Toffoli for roughing. On the ensuing 5-on-3 power play, Logan Couture put home a rebound into a gaping net for a 2-0 Sharks’ lead, as Jonathan Quick was out of position after initially denying Joe Pavelski with a spectacular save.
On the other end, Martin Jones made several big stops on a penalty kill late in the period to keep the Kings off the scoreboard heading into the third.
Defenseman Paul Martin spoke to Jones’ calming presence:
“Jones has a lot of composure. He’s very poised. Not a lot gets to him. He’s always in a good spot. He’s very positionally sound. That’s the biggest thing. If something happens, he’s not too high, not too low. He’s very focused that way. For us, playing in front of him calms us too, knowing he’s back there.”
The Kings cut the lead in half with five minutes to play in the third period as Vincent Lecavalier deposited a loose puck off a net mouth scramble into the net on the power play.
The Sharks, though, killed off four of the five Kings’ power plays on the night and limited them to few scoring chances. And following the Lecavalier goal, they stood tall, holding off a late push by the Kings to even the score.
Couture was asked about the keys to the strong penalty kill:
“We kept them to the outside for the most part, and when they got shots, [Jones] was there to make the save. He’s our best penalty killer.”
Pavelski, who had two goals in Game 1, picked up right where he left off with a goal less than four minutes into the game, firing a wrist shot home from the right faceoff circle to give the Sharks an early 1-0 lead. Just like in Game 1, it was the first shot of the game for the Sharks, and it was also Pavelski’s goal.
It’s the first time the Sharks have scored the first goal of the game in Staples Center this season — regular season or playoffs, and DeBoer would like to see more of that:
“Big goal again by our captain … we want to play out in front of them. It’s critical to get the first one. We also knew they were going to push. For us to get the first goal really got us into the game.”
The Sharks controlled much of the first period, outshooting the Kings 7-5 and not allowing them much space or time in their defensive zone. The Kings, frustrated, ramped up the intensity with hard hits. Luke Schenn was called for interference after crushing Tomas Hertl at center and Dwight King earned a roughing penalty on Roman Polak.
DeBoer again lauded his team for sticking in there despite the physicality:
“There was nowhere to hide out there. That’s a game where you’re going to pay a price every time down the ice to win a battle, to get to the net, to defend. Our guys did it for 60 minutes, kept our discipline, and found a way to win.”
San Jose failed to add on in its two power plays in the first period, however. Couture was denied twice: once by Quick with the glove and again by a sliding Schenn, who took away an open net.
But they got just enough goals to skate away from Los Angeles with two games in hand. Still, the players are skeptical the series is close to over.
Pavelski said the 2-0 series lead means just that:
“It means it’s a good start. That’s all it means. There’s still a lot of work to do. We didn’t win the series tonight.”
Additionally, the Sharks will have to win at SAP Center, where they have uncharacteristically struggled this season, finishing with a below .500 record.
Couture knows it won’t be easy:
“This series is a long ways from being over. I’m sure it’s going to be well-documented how we played at home this year. They’re going to bring a very good effort in Game 3 and we’ve got to match it.”
As for overconfidence? Forget about it. DeBoer wasn’t here for the epic collapse two seasons ago to the same Kings — blowing a 3-0 series lead in the first round — but plenty of players remain from that team, and the head coach would like to keep the foot on the gas pedal in Game 3 on Monday night in San Jose:
“I don’t think we have to worry about overconfidence. We’ve got a veteran group, a core group that has been and seen almost everything. I’ve got a lot of respect for LA. They’re a long way from done … we’ve still got other levels to get to and we can play better than we have so far in the series.”