LOS ANGELES – Twice they fought back from one-goal deficits, and moments after Matt Nieto tied Thursday’s Game 4 at 2-2 in the second period, the Sharks were swarming in the offensive zone on a power play in search of their first lead.
The puck ended up on Joe Pavelski’s stick in the slot with Jonathan Quick way out of position. The Sharks’ leading goal-scorer with 41 in the regular season, Pavelski’s attempt at a gaping wide cage was deflected just wide by nemesis Dustin Brown, keeping the score tied.
After getting a fortunate bounce on Patrick Marleau’s overtime winner in Game 3, perhaps that play evened things out in a series that San Jose still leads, three-games-to-one. The Kings scored two goals late in the second and another one early in the third, thus avoiding a first round sweep and sending the series back to San Jose for Game 5 on Saturday with a 6-3 home win.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Kings force Game 5 with 6-3 win over Sharks]
“I know the net is wide open,” Pavelski said of the game’s turning point. “Got good wood on it, and finds their blade and goes wide. It’s frustrating. You should be able to put that in, and then they score after that.”
Todd McLellan was more troubled with the goals the Sharks allowed than the ones they didn’t convert. Allowing six scores to the Kings isn’t a recipe for success against the club that allowed the fewest goals in the regular season.
“We give up five tonight, less than the empty-netter, we’re not winning against a team that can defend the way they do and have the goaltending that they do,” McLellan said. “We can talk about the ones we missed, I’m more concerned about the ones we gave up.”
Los Angeles got it started four minutes into the game on a three-on-two rush that Marian Gaborik finished off after Marleau couldn’t get back in time to tie up the Kings’ winger’s stick. Justin Williams’ first of two gave the Kings a 2-1 lead in the second, when his wrist shot snuck through Antti Niemi with Mike Richards aggressively charging the crease.
The late second period goals by Williams and Toffoli were fortunate bounces that Niemi had little chance of stopping, and Gaborik’s third period marker, chasing Niemi, began when Anze Kopitar took the puck from Brad Stuart along the wall.
Niemi was pulled after the fifth goal, but McLellan was adamant that the loss was not on his starting goaltender.
“I didn’t like our net play. Simple as that,” said the coach.
“When I say net play, I don’t mean our goaltender. Around our net. I better make that real clear, I’m not talking about our goaltender, I’m talking about the goaltender, the d-men, the forwards down low. Secondary chances we gave up. I’m definitely not talking about one individual with pads on.”
Despite the mistakes, the Sharks' overall effort was there. Surprisingly, they were the better team early, and they didn’t give up after falling behind 5-2 in the third, either. Pavelski got his goal with eight minutes to go in regulation, and San Jose kept up the pressure, although it couldn't get any closer. The Sharks finished with a 39-31 advantage in shots.
“We didn’t forecheck the first two periods the way we wanted to, but looking back at the game, we had chances,” Logan Couture said. “Tighten up a little in our d-zone and score on a couple of our chances, the score could have been reversed. We’re still up 3-1, we’ve got to go home and we’ve got to win a game at home.”
McLellan said: “I thought we had some intensity to our game. I thought we were as desperate as they were, but we didn’t execute anywhere near the way they did. When you go back to the goals, it’s quite easy to pinpoint some of the mistakes that we made. For us to have success moving forward, that has to get cleaned up quickly.”
The Sharks will hope they don’t see the Staples Center again this season, and that one win out of two here was enough.
"We showed a lot of fight and we came down here and did what we’re supposed to do," Joe Thornton said. "Now, we’ve got to go home and do our job.”