The Los Angeles Kings made history Wednesday night, becoming the fourth NHL team to come back from an 0-3 series deficit by beating the San Jose Sharks 5-1 in Game 7. They’ll now move on to face their other in-state rivals, the Anaheim Ducks, in Round 2.
After Matt Irwin opened the scoring for the Sharks early in the second period, the Kings would answer with three goals over the next 23 minutes en route to joining the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, 1975 New York Islanders and 2010 Philadelphia Flyers in the history books.
(Kings forward Mike Richards was on that Flyers team four years ago. Jeff Carter was as well, but he was injured for the series against the Boston Bruins.)
Two moments in the second period changed the course of the game in favor of the Kings.
With the score tied 1-1, Patrick Marleau had a golden opportunity on the power play to reclaim the lead for San Jose, but Jonathan Quick robbed him with a glove save on the goal line:
Minutes later, the Kings took the lead and didn’t look back when Justin Williams found a streaking Anze Kopitar through the Sharks’ zone and the Selke Trophy finalist went backhand shelf on Niemi for a 2-1 lead:
Game 7s are showtime for Williams, who is now 5-0 in his career in them and has posted 10 points over that stretch.
The backbreaker came early in the third period as the Kings took advantage of a Sharks line change and broke out of their zone on an odd-man rush. With the puck in the corner, Tanner Pearson dropped off a pass to Tyler Toffoli, who then beat Niemi high glove to extend the lead to 3-1 and ensure that San Jose’s season would end for a second consecutive season in a Game 7 against LA.
The Sharks had outscored the Kings 17-8 in their opening three wins of the series. They only managed five goals in their four losses and the power play failed to score in their last 15 opportunities.
San Jose will get the “choker” label hung on them again, but credit to the Kings, who turned their game around when as their backs were against the wall.
“We just got better throughout the series,” Kings forward Mike Richards told NBCSN afterward.
"Being down 0-3 wasn’t an issue," Richards added. “I don’t think there’s actually that much pressure, to be honest, because you’re almost expected to lose because you’re playing with the house’s money almost in every game.”
What now for the Sharks? They’re a team that enters every season with Stanley Cup aspirations, but have only advanced past the second round twice in the last 10 seasons. The future of head coach Todd McLellan is the first question that has to be answered. Is it time to move in a new direction at head coach?
Much of the roster is tied up through at least next season, so barring a shake-up and new faces on the ice in 2014-14, the major change could just be a different voice behind the bench.
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