Friday, May 24, 2013
Kings hit back in win over Sharks
By Pierre LeBrun
LOS ANGELES -- Big Matt Greene roared in from the blue line and thumped James Sheppard right onto his behind.
A few shifts later in the opening period, Greene did it again to T.J. Galiardi. Bam.
Two thunderous body checks that set the tone for the Los Angeles Kings in their critical, 3-0 victory over the San Jose Sharks in Game 5 on Thursday night.
"Those hits are exactly the ones that stick out in my mind," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said.
It was just Greene’s second game back after missing the opening nine of the playoffs, and it shows exactly what the Kings have been missing most of the season when he was injured.
"His leadership is important to us," said Sutter.
Greene? He just shrugged when asked about being a one-man wrecking crew.
"If I’m not doing that, then I’m probably not worth a damn for anybody out there," the veteran said.
Greene set the stage in an opening period in which the Kings outhit the San Jose Sharks 24-12, imposing themselves physically in a way they really hadn't up to that point in this series.
Overall, the hit count was a massive 51-24 by the end of the night.
"Just trying to get physical and try to slow these guys down a little bit," Greene said. "I think they had everything they wanted in Game 4 up there. We were trying tonight to establish our game and slow them down, slow down their offense."
Slow it they did, as Jonathan Quick earned a 24-save shutout and the Kings delivered their best overall performance since Game 1 of the series, raising their game just as they had promised they would the day before.
"I think it's fair to say this is probably our best effort in the playoffs, most consistent effort in the playoffs," said star center Anze Kopitar, who opened the scoring. "We carried that emotion and desperation that we had in Game 4, in that last period."
You could see it in their eyes on Wednesday after practice, when two-time Cup winner Justin Williams talked about the hunger that still existed in that dressing room to win another championship.
Well, they had no choice but to step up on this night. The Sharks had stolen momentum in the series by winning two straight at home to tie the series 2-2 and did so in impressive fashion, bottling up the Kings for long stretches in their zone and limiting their offensive chances at the Shark Tank in a pair of 2-1 victories.
The Sharks headed into Game 5 truly believing this was their series to take.
As such, the Kings were under the gun to stand up and be accounted for on this night, or else risk heading to San Jose facing elimination on Sunday evening. Instead, Los Angeles can advance to the Western Conference finals with a Game 6 victory.
"You got to answer back. You have to answer that adversity," Greene said. "They’re a great team over there, they play well. We have to answer the bell. Our goal is to move on and to keep this going. But that’s their goal, too. So it’s just two good teams going at it right now."
Two key Kings who were under pressure to deliver did just that Thursday night, as Kopitar scored his second goal in 11 playoff games -- but what a big one it was, with 1:52 to go in the second period -- and captain Dustin Brown nailed everything in sight, leading the team with 11 hits.
Williams, Rob Scuderi, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Drew Doughty -- all the key veterans stepped up on this night.
In San Jose, it was the Sharks’ top players outplaying the Kings’ top guys.
Not Thursday. Not even close.
"Myself included, we were bad tonight," Sharks star Logan Couture said. "That’s why we lost. We’re not going to win if our best players are not our best players. We need to step up."
The line changes Sutter concocted for the Kings the day before did the trick, as Kyle Clifford fit in well with Kopitar and Williams, while Brown found a home with Trevor Lewis and Dwight King.
But Game 5 was about the Kings setting a physical tone early and often.
"That's a part of our game," Brown said. "But I thought we did it tonight in the right way, in the sense that we didn't run out of position to make a hit -- and that's what we need more of. It's being smart and aggressive out there."
The belief is if you hit hard and often early in a game, it’s an investment that pays off later if your opponent wears down. Suddenly, you’ve got an opponent that’s perhaps a little too beaten down to chase loose pucks.
The Kings took over puck possession in the second period and carried that over into the third period, when Slava Voynov’s point shot found a hole through a maze to give the Kings a 2-0 lead just 53 seconds in.
"I think their desperation level, in my opinion, went up," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said of the Kings. "That was the biggest change."
The home team has won all five games to date. So don’t write off the Sharks just yet.
And if you ask me, this dandy of a series sure feels like a seven-gamer.