Programming note: Coverage of Game 2 between the Sharks and Kings begins Sunday at 6:30 p.m. on CSN California with Sharks Pregame Live (Channel locations)
Let that be a lesson to all of us -- pre-playoff series analysis is a game for fools.
What was advertised with almost metaphysical certitude as a taut, pushy, vexatious matchup between the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks began Thursday night, and it took barely 20 minutes to turn it into an odd joke.
San Jose controlled, and occasionally dominated, the evening, scoring thrice in the first period and pulling away from there to exfoliate the Kings, 6-3, in a game that wasn’t as close as the scoreboard implied.
“Well, especially the first two periods,” defenseman and fifth goal-scorer Marc-Edouard Vlasic said with a smile. “The third period, even if you’re up 5-0, you don’t ease up on these guys. You think it comes easily, and you find out.”
Yeah, but . . .
“For the first two periods, I don’t know that we could have done anything better.”
Indeed, San Jose handled their archest of rivals over the first 35 minutes as though this was a February game at home against Edmonton. Inspired by a brief pregame power outage, the Kings played as though the game was on the verge of postponement. They were sloppy in their own end and shockingly slow, both in speed and reaction time, to San Jose’s early rush. If it weren’t for the fact that this was so uncharacteristic for a Los Angeles team in the Darryl Sutter era, one might think that the Sharks had set a series-long tone.
And that is why the natural human impulse to ease off the throttle when a game has been strangled into submission often serves more as a bracing knee in the junction – which is how the Sharks are planning to take the third (or Kings) period.
“We eased off?” fourth-line wing and fourth goal scorer Raffi Torres asked rhetorically. “That’s what it looked like. You can’t sit back against a team like that. You have to keep playing them the whole time they way you intend to play them. You can’t pump the brakes. You’re fooling yourself if you think it’s going to be this kind of series.”
“No music out there for a period and a half. It was weird.”
The silence was not an aesthetic choice, but part of the aftermath of the pregame short that darkened the arena and apparently discombobulated the arena juke box, to the relief of all right-thinking people. But the 20-year-old building rallied quickly, powering back up and causing no delay in the start. The grand old San Jose Arena (the pre-extortion name) shrugged off the inconvenience and was back to normal in plenty of time.
Which is more than can be said for the game itself.
That’s the one grand hope for the hyperbole that preceded this series – that there is no momentum between playoff games between relative equals. Nothing kills a budding story line in a series quite like the final horn of a game, because changes get made, tempers are raised, adjustments are forced, and series turn on an edge.
In short, Game 2 cannot logically be like Game 1 unless we have all badly misjudged the relative strengths and weaknesses of these two teams. Game 1 was simply out of the norm, which is why one can almost not trust the way it was played. It wasn’t the result so much as the way it was played – San Jose took 65 total shots on the team that allowed the fewest shots in the league, and though Kings goalie Jonathan Quick was well below his norm, he was not helped by his mates in any material way.
And conversely, the Kings owned the third, outshooting San Jose, 16-5, with all the zone time and chances the Sharks had in the first period. That made no more sense than the first two periods, except that the Sharks might have pulling their punches at that point.
The Kings flew back to Los Angeles to regroup for Game 2 Sunday. One should assume they shall do so, and that said game will probably feature one-third as many goals and about three times as much grinding.
[REWIND: Gift of April: 16 days of Beat LA]
But if for some reason this is how the series intends to play out, the chant “Beat L.A.” may have to be modified to the more tepid and uninspiring “Discomfort The Amorphous Los Angeles Basin.” To earn a vigorous “Beat L.A.,” this series will have to turn on itself quickly, or forever hold its peace.