2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs – First Round Series Preview
Western Conference Quarterfinals Game 6 - San Jose 4, Los Angeles 3 (OT) – Sharks win series, 4-2
For the time being, the San Jose Sharks have avoided playing below expectations, and just barely at that. The always teasing and frustrating team on the West Coast, the one with ample talent but minimal focus, was able to escape the first round for the second straight season, but in many ways, the only reason the Sharks aren’t playing golf right now is that they played an opponent with an even greater propensity to let down its guard in meaningful moments.
Jumbo Joe Thornton, the playoff underachiever who has typified his team’s mid-spring failures over the years, scored 2:22 into overtime to give his Sharks a 4-3 victory over the Los Angeles Kings and give the second seed a six-game victory in this rare all-California series. What’s amazing about the goal, though, is that it came right after the Sharks killed off a five-minute major penalty. Yes, the same San Jose team that blew two one-goal leads in the third period then dug itself a very deep ditch with 3:23 left in regulation. San Jose’s Jamie McGinn rammed L.A.’s Mike Richardson hard into the boards and was given a game misconduct. The brain-dead penalty handed the seventh-seeded Kings a perfect chance to knot the series at three games each and force Game 7 on Wednesday in San Jose. After the Kings lost two overtime games in the earlier parts of the series (Games 1 and 3), L.A. received a perfect opportunity to light the lamp late in regulation and avoid the crapshoot that overtime most certainly is. Moreover, with the majority of the five-minute major coming in regulation, the Kings knew that they needed to strike then. San Jose could kill off 1:37 in overtime, with fresh (and therefore extra lively) ice being an impediment to good puckhandling. It was the final 3:23 of the third period that was going to determine the contours of this contest and, quite possibly, the series.
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San Jose dug in its heels and delivered, while the Kings lost the plot. The Sharks were aggressive on their kill, especially along the boards, while Los Angeles floundered for most of the power play. The Kings got their act together in the final 35 seconds of regulation, peppering San Jose goalie Antti Niemi with close-in shots, but last year’s Stanley Cup-winning backstop managed to come up big when he needed to. In the overtime portion of the power play, the Kings didn’t manage a single shot on goal, and it was hardly surprising that the Sharks – courtesy of Thornton – ended the series just 45 seconds after the five-minute penalty ended. And so it was: Los Angeles, which blew a 4-0 lead in Game 3, failed to convert a five-minute penalty at the end of regulation in Game 6. The Sharks made dumb plays, but the Kings refused to take advantage.
Here’s how the whole game played out: After no goals were scored in the first period, Kyle Wellwood got the Sharks on the scoreboard first with a goal at 2:58 of the second period. The Kings responded with a power play goal scored by Justin Williams at 13:27 and tying the game at one. The final goal of the period was scored by Jason Demers at 16:52, giving San Jose a one-goal lead after 40 minutes of action.
Ryan Smyth scored just 18 seconds into the third period to tie the game up at two for Los Angeles. San Jose’s Danny Heatley gave the Sharks another lead with a goal at 8:48. The comeback kids from the City of Angels responded with their final goal of the season on the man advantage at 11:49 when Trevor Lewis slipped the puck past Niemi and sent the game into overtime. That’s when Jumbo Joe worked his magic and the sent the Sharks into the Western Conference semifinals where they could potentially meet the Detroit Red Wings for the second season in a row. That will happen if Vancouver beats Chicago. If the Blackhawks win, they’ll be San Jose’s opponent.
Know this: Whomever the Sharks play, they’ll have to be much better if they want to reach the 2011 NHL Western Conference Finals.
By: Matt Zemek
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer
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