Rallying from two disastrous efforts in San Jose, the Kings threw everything they had at the Sharks in Game 3 on Tuesday night.
It wasn’t enough.
San Jose’s Patrick Marleau ended a back-and-forth thriller at 6:20 of overtime with a harmless looking backhander that deflected off the stick of L.A. defenseman Slava Voynov and over the shoulder of goalie Jonathan Quick to seal a 4-3 win. The Sharks now have a 3-0 stranglehold on their best-of-seven series and could close out the 2012 Stanley Cup champions on Thursday night.
The Kings answered the bell early in this one, tightening a porous defense, amping up their physical game and getting strong performances from Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter and Mike Richards (a game-high 66.7 percent Corsi rating). But their inability to build on a pair of one-goal leads created by Carter and Jarret Stoll pushed them into sudden death. They had their chances there, too, pinning San Jose deep in its own zone and getting off the first five shots of the extra frame before Marleau administered the dagger that all but ends L.A.’s season.
Here are a few observations from this OT thriller, along with thoughts on what lies ahead in Game 4.
• One more win won’t exorcise the ghosts of past postseason failures that haunt San Jose, but don’t underestimate what it means, either. The knees of previous Sharks teams might have buckled while trying to tie the score in the third period, or to win the game in OT, but this group continues to prove it is different. The decision to drop some weight and emphasize speed two summers ago keeps paying off, as does the team’s improved depth. Seven through 12, this is the best group of forwards ever to wear teal.
• Terrific read by San Jose coach Todd McLellan just ahead of the winning goal. With the face-off in the offensive zone and his team reeling from the King’s furious attack, he cobbled together a “super line” of Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and Marleau. Pavelski beat Richards on the draw, setting the winning play into motion. It was a happy result … and more than McLellan was looking for. “We needed to settle down, and those are three guys I trust to do that,” he said. “We needed one shift to settle down. And they got the goal before we settled down.”
• Quick took on more than his share of the blame after running up a 7.20 GAA and .824 save percentage through the first two games, but feel free to question his performance after this one. His low, aggressive stance really worked against him as he was beaten by high, fluttering deflections on Brent Burns’ opening goal as well as on Marleau’s winner. No one should expect a goalie who is headed to Vegas in June to collect the Jennings Trophy to change up his style after a couple of rough games, but it’s fair to say that Quick’s aura of invincibility is in tatters.
• I’m already hearing people asking if coach Darryl Sutter will turn to Martin Jones in Game 4. There’s zero chance of that happening. If L.A. is going down, it’ll go down with its No. 1 guy.
• Despite clawing out the win, Sharks goalie Antti Niemi was not particularly good on Tuesday night, either. He really struggled with his rebound control, which led to several tense goalmouth scrambles and forced his defense to bail him out too often. Niemi redeemed himself in the frantic opening minutes of OT, slamming the door on five terrific chances as the desperate Kings swarmed the San Jose zone, but he’s one guy who clearly needs to step it up in Game 4.
• Our first Marian Gaborik sighting of the series was so spectacular that it should have been captured on a Russian dash cam. Los Angeles’ flashy trade deadline acquisition picked the puck up just behind the red line and turned on the jets, blowing past a flat-footed Scott Hannan before driving through the crease and depositing a nifty backhander over Niemi’s glove to give L.A. a 2-1 lead in the second period. Gaborik had another great chance midway through a third-period power play when a pass found him alone at the hash marks, but his shot rocketed off the post. If he finishes that chance, it’s a different game.
• If there’s anything for the Kings to build on from this loss, it’s that they finally got something from their special teams. After being blanked in the first two games, the power play connected twice on four chances. The L.A. PK went three-for-four, including a harrowing kill over the final 1:58 of regulation to negate a Stoll interference penalty that was as brain dead a play as you’ll ever see.
The Kings and the Sharks meet in Game 4 in Los Angeles on April 24 at 10:30 p.m. ET.