LOS ANGELES – Logan Couture could hardly hide his glee after his San Jose Sharks disposed of the Los Angeles Kings in the first-round of the Stanley Cup playoffs with a 6-3, Game 5 win.
After hearing what he believed was trash talk by the Kings for two years after his Sharks blew a 3-0 lead to LA in the 2014 playoffs, Couture unleashed his emotions.
“Throughout the last couple of years things have been said by players on that team that to me I take it as disrespectful. It’s nice to stick it back to them and beat them in this series,” Couture said. “Even in this series someone said on the team they had us right where they wanted us. Wonder if they have us where they want us right now.”
Couture’s words may have offered a window into how the Sharks really felt about taking down Los Angeles, even though a lot of players continued to say they didn’t think about prior playoff flameouts to the Kings.
This was more than just your run-of-the-mill first-round win by a veteran group. It was a statement.
“You want to beat the teams that have beaten you in the past,” forward Patrick Marleau said. “They’re a really good team.”
In the next round they'll face either the Nashville Predators or Anaheim Ducks.
Game 5 started out as a blowout by the Sharks, became close after a Los Angeles push in the second period, and was eventually put away by San Jose’s superior depth.
The Sharks got on the board early with a goal by Joonas Donskoi just 1:08 into the game. By the 4:05 mark of the second when Matt Nieto put in a beautiful spinning feed by Joel Ward, the score was 3-0 in favor of the Sharks. Marleau was given a penalty shot at the 5:31 mark of the second with a chance to put the game completely out of reach.
Instead he missed on his backhand attempt and the Kings started a mini-comeback. First, a puck bounced off the shin of Los Angeles forward Anze Kopitar at the 7:44 mark to make the game 3-1. Los Angeles forward Jeff Carter was left alone in front of the Sharks’ net and buried a shot at the 11:26 mark to put the game at 3-2. At the 16:36 mark Kris Versteeg tapped in a rebound off a Kyle Clifford shot to knot the game at 3-3.
The sellout crowd of 18,543 at Staples Center was roaring full throat at that point and the Kings seemed poised to carry the momentum to a series altering win.
During the intermission, DeBoer addressed his team and calmed them down. He reminded the Sharks that being up 3-1 in a series and tied in Game 5 on the road heading into the third period isn’t a bad situation.
“We kind of fed off that and had a good third period,” Sharks forward Joe Thornton said.
Just 3:58 into the frame, Donskoi beat Los Angeles defenseman Drew Doughty with a powerful individual effort around the Kings’ nets to put the Sharks up 4-3. Captain Joe Pavelski powered a shot through the legs of Jonathan Quick at the 12:24 mark put the game at 5-3 and ice it for the Sharks. Los Angeles led for just 4:02 of the entire series.
“We were chasing the lead all the time pretty much every game, with the exception of game one when we scored first and we were chasing the lead the rest of the way,” Kopitar said. “You just can’t do that.”
After the game, the veteran Sharks showed a sense of relief but it wasn’t much different than how they celebrated their prior wins. They high-fived each other and munched on a few slices of pizza.
Outside of Couture, there weren’t audible mentions of 2014.
“It really is a new year, I think with everything that’s gone on here, the only time I really think about it is when I get asked the question,” defenseman Brent Burns said. “It’s been a totally different year. It’s been a great group. I think we’ve battled back a lot from behind. It’s just been a good group I think and that’s a tough series to come into this barn three times and get three wins, that’s pretty special too.”
DeBoer pointed out why this group is indeed different. After the team missed the playoffs a year ago, general manager Doug Wilson added veteran depth by signing defenseman Paul Martin and Ward last offseason. He added Donskoi to bring in some skill. During the season, the Sharks traded for forward Nick Spaling and defenseman Roman Polak to plug holes.
The Kings’ calling card on their championship teams was always their depth. This series San Jose beat the Kings by taking advantage of LA’s blueline struggles with Alec Martinez out. They keyed on the Kings’ stars, not allowing players like Anze Kopitar to get rolling until the last three games of the series when his team was already down. They kept pushing their forecheck on Doughty who couldn’t handle it with just one assist and a minus-5 rating.
Jeff Carter, the Kings' second-leading scorer in the regular season, had just two goals. LA’s leading scorer was defenseman Jake Muzzin.
The Sharks had three players with six-or-more points. Pavelski led the way with five goals, and the team got contributions from Ward (four assists) and Brent Burns (eight points). Donskoi had three points in five games.
“There’s a reason they haven’t been able to get over a hump like this in the past and I think that’s a big part of it,” DeBoer said. “I think that’s the difference where our group right now is we have depth and contributing depth we can play.”
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