WCQF Game 4: Sharks power to 6-3 win in LA, Kings on the brink trailing 3-1 in series

By Jon Swenson - Last updated: Friday, April 22, 2011 - Save & Share - Leave a Comment

San Jose Sharks fans at Staples Center for Los Angeles Kings game 4

The San Jose Sharks took control of game 4 with a burst of offense in the second and third periods, and took control of their opening round series with a 6-3 win at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Ryane Clowe scored two goals for the second straight game, Antti Niemi returned from being pulled to stop 35 of 38 shots against, and the Sharks won the special teams battle on both ends of the ice. Clowe scored the only power play goal of the game in the second period, and a clean sheet 6-for-6 performance shorthanded including a pair of 5-on-3′s against stifled the Kings offense. The #2 seed Sharks lead the #7 seed Kings 3-1 in the WCQF playoff series, with game 5 returning to San Jose on Saturday night.

Jonathan Quick’s perseverance was touted in the first game of the series after he gave up a goal to Dany Heatley 28 seconds in. Quick maintained his composure, and locked down the crease to give his side an opportunity to win in overtime. Two nights after being pulled in Los Angeles, Antti Niemi rebounded with a solid effort in goal during the first period. He shut the door on a quality scoring chance by Wayne Simmonds, and kept his stick on the ice to block a Drew Doughty stuff attempt on the rush. Niemi was forced to make a desperation glove save again on Simmonds, diving to his left after a turnover by Boyle lead to an odd-man rush against.

It was a goaltending duel early, and Quick was also forced to make several critical saves while shorthanded. Kings captain Dustin Brown got his stick into the midsection of Joe Thornton while coming off the ice. Matt Greene took a slashing penalty 38 seconds later to give the Sharks a 5-on-3 opportunity. Quick came up with the possibly the save of the game on the ensuing penalty kill. Down one player, a seeing eye Thornton pass forced Quick to make a huge left-to-right push in order to stop Joe Pavelski’s one-timer at the top of the crease. Down two players, Quick squared up to block a quick release Dany Heatley one-timer from the center of the slot. The Sharks outshot Los Angeles 13-9 in the first period, and Quick finished off the first 20 with a right-to-left push and a sprawling glove save on Patrick Marleau.

Then came the second period and a turning point in the game for Scott Nichol and the San Jose Sharks. 3:14 in Nichol challenged Kings defenseman Drew Doughty in front of his own net. Doughty moved the puck before the pressure, but Nichol collided into him with an awkward knee-on-knee collision. As Doughty skated up ice, he stared holes into the back of Nichol’s head as he skated up ice to meet him. After a series of cross checks by each player, both were sent off for 2 minutes. With more open ice to make plays, the Sharks quickly scored two goals 4-on-4. Ryane Clowe entered the zone on the rush, then dropped a pass to Vlasic. Vlasic faked a shot, forcing Quick to drop down as the Pavelski-Johnson net front battle spilled over into his crease. Clowe tracked down a rebound that deflected into the corner, spun and fired a shot that banked off of a Kings skate and a Kings stick and in.

“I was going to shoot it, when Pickles passed it back to me I knew he kind of froze Quick,” Clowe said. “I was trying to turn and throw it in the net. I guess when you throw it in that area you look for a pass, I thought Pavelski tipped it first but I guess it went off a skate.” The Sharks added another 4-on-4 goal as Couture drove the center of the ice and fired from the slot. The puck deflected off of defenseman Alec Martinez, and Couture slid the rebound to an open Jason Demers in the left wing for a tap-in goal.

Nichol left the box, and quickly drew a 4-minute double minor on defenseman Matt Greene for high sticking. Greene took Nichol down hard in front of his own net, and the blade of his stick cut Nichol above the left eye while he was on the ice. Clowe scored his second goal of the game on a power play that utilized plenty of misdirection. With the Kings agressively pressuring puck carriers and blocking shots, Couture opened up room at the point with a no look pass to Ian White. White faked a shot, then fired a shot/pass to Couture who shoveled the puck on net. Jonathan Quick got a piece of the puck, but as it was trickling towards the goal line Clowe punched it home. 3-0 Sharks. “It was just creeping over the goal line and I got a stick on it. Both (of my goals) were greasy ones, but I will take them,” Clowe said.

“Give Nichol credit, he is the reason they won tonight. Because they scored two goals on it, then they score a goal on the double minor with Greene in the box. Three goals directly responsible for Nichol’s play,” Los Angeles Kings head coach Terry Murray said after the game. But the Kings would battle back. Ryane Smyth fired a shot from the left wing that deflected off of Niemi’s glove. This time the puck was trickling wide right, but Brad Richardson tracked it down from behind the net and tapped it home. A little over 5 minutes later, a similar rush down the left wing resulted in another goal for the Kings. Justin Williams got his stick around a defenseman to drill a hard pass across the crease to a driving Smyth. Marc-Edouard Vlasic bodied up Smyth and kept his stick off the deflection, but Vlasic deflected the puck into his own net trying to poke it wide. “At the end of the night if you look at the offensive zone play we had, especially coming back 2-3, there was some great play there. Putting pucks to the net, some great playoff kind of goals. It is there. It is without the puck that is a concern,” Kings head coach Terry Murray said.

After one reporter described the Kings defense as eating the Sharks (top forwards) lunch in the second game of the series, the reverse was true for the first 10 minutes of the third period in game 4. Patrick Marleau fired a hard angle pass from behind the net to Joe Thornton. With his skates on the blue paint, Thornton lifted the puck over an extended Quick. “We were talking about how Quick sprawls out, so just get it over the top,” Thornton told CSNCA after the game. In the more populated post-game media scrum, Thornton looked ahead at game 5. “We have a good challenge ahead of us. They played very, very well at home. They have great fans,” Thornton said. “It was a great opportunity for us. With the last game coming back, I think we had a little more confidence and it showed.”

Offensive zone faceoffs were critical, and the Sharks finished the game winning 10 of 18. San Jose finished 38-64 overall (.593) on faceoffs in game 4 and 39-64 overall in game 3 (.609). An offensive zone faceoff win by Pavelski in the third was aided by winger Torrey Mitchell. Mitchell helped get the puck to Dan Boyle at the point, and Boyle’s shot was deflected high in the zone by Pavelski to make the score 5-2. Kyle Wellwood was also in a position to make a play on the puck with his stick down low. Sharks head coach Todd McLellan said earlier in the season that a lost faceoff could take 15-20 seconds off of a power play, with the reverse also being true on the PK. While former Blue Jackets and Stars head coach Ken Hitchcock said that the penalty kill is the best example of attention to details for a team, for the Sharks it may just be from the faceoff circle. Torrey Mitchell and Alexei Ponikarovsky added their first goals of the playoffs to finish out the scoring.

San Jose Sharks head coach Todd McLellan was asked after the game about scoring 12 goals in a pair of playoff road games at the Staples Center. “We’ll take them. We had to earn them though, they are a very good hockey club,” McLellan said. “More importantly it is two wins.” How the Sharks achieved their last two wins was a testament to the unpredictable nature of the playoffs. After trailing 4-0 in game 3 and mounting a remarkable comeback, both teams returned to the tight defensive play most expected from the series to open game 4. “I think in game 2 it was pretty evident that we were not prepared to use (our playoff) experience,” McLellan said. “We were very undisciplined, we took penalties we didn’t need to take, we got engaged at the wrong times. Over the last two games I think you could see that come out a little more.”

The growth of confidence on the Sharks side was similar to letting the genie out of the bottle. The Kings will work hard for the rest of the series trying to put it back in, but even Los Angeles Kings head coach Terry Murray grudgingly accepted the uphill nature of that effort. “It is (play) without the puck that is a concern,” Murray said. “We have given up 12 goals here in two games at home, I am not just saying this, we are one of the best defensive teams in the league over the last 3 years. Statistics show that. Those guys have played hard, and really dedicated themselves to that part of the game. This is really out of character what has gone on here.” Asked about the possibility of making a goaltending change or a line change to spark the Kings for game 5, Murray reiterated his support for goaltender Jonathan Quick and noted that his lineup is for the most part set. “I am playing what I got. Kopitar is not coming back guys. He has got a broken leg. You play with what you got.”

Los Angeles Kings defenseman Jack Johnson on the key for his team in game 5: “Stop them from scoring six goals a game.”

[Update] Kings’ defense and season are teetering after 6-3 loss to Sharks in Game 4 – Helene Elliott for the Los Angeles Times.

The identity the Kings had sweated and strained to build over six grueling months was shattered this week in two playoff losses to the San Jose Sharks, defeats that left the Kings at the brink of elimination and shoved them backward in their apparently never-ending rebuilding process.

[Update2] Postgame notes April 21 – LAkingsinsider.com.

[Update3] Quotes and notes as Sharks move within one win of next round with 6-3 victory over Los Angeles – David Pollak’s Working the Corners blog.

[Update4] Sharks’ Joe Thornton gives love to fans – Pierre LeBrun for ESPN.com.

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