The San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings are facing off tonight in a pivotal game six. The Sharks lead the series 3-2 and are hoping to finish off the series with a third win at the Staples Center, while the Kings are banking on their first win at home in these 2011 NHL Playoffs. The Sharks, as we all know, failed to get things done in game five. They were coming off two fantastic victories, recovering from a four-goal deficit and also getting a solid 6-3 win, both of which should have been vastly demoralizing for the Kings.
Evidently not, as it happens. The Kings came out and jumped to a three-goal lead that they'd never relinquish through periods two and three to get the victory. Antti Niemi was pulled after giving up three goals on four shots and Antero Niittymaki came in, and stopped all eighteen shots that came his way the rest of the way. But there wasn't a feeling of not performing for the majority of the night, nobody really got the feeling that this was a Sharks team that couldn't hang with the LA unit on ice. There's so much more to it than "Jonathan Quick stole one," but it really is one of those games that can be simplified to that level.
He stopped fifty-one shots in game five, a game that saw the Sharks dominate the puck for about fifty of the sixty minutes of play. In regards to the on-ice performance for the majority of the game, it's hard to suggest the Sharks do many things different. They do need to do a better job of getting bodies in front of Quick and screen him a little, and they definitely need to make better use of their power plays, but it felt like nothing would have worked in game five. Quick was just on his game and he took that game from the Sharks.
Completely falling apart in the first couple minutes while leaving your goalie hanging out to dry is also something they could probably do differently. Niemi wasn't pulled unjustly, but he did deserve more help from the guys around him. The first goal was a mental error on his part, and the third goal was one he should have been able to stop, but still, he didn't have any support at all. Todd McLellan is sticking to his guns and leaving Niemi in the lineup as the starter. The team committed to him earlier this season and that's going to be the case going forward in these playoffs, barring another awful performance early on.
The best thing the Sharks can do is just play a tighter game from the get-go and not let the Kings get ahead to an early lead, which is a stark contrast to how many figured this series would go: in that, the Sharks were supposed to jump to the early lead and have the Kings playing loose the remainder of the game, but it seems like everybody on the young LA unit is playing the best hockey they can. The Sharks need to play their game and not let Niemi get rattled early.
CSN California will have the game at 7:00 p.m. tonight, don't forget to head over to Fear The Fin for discussion.