If there were fans that thought the Los Angeles Kings’ Game 4 victory over the San Jose Sharks was a one-off fluke, then they were surely surprised when the Kings jumped out to an early lead and preserved it in a 3-0 shutout win at SAP Center on Saturday night.
The Kings didn’t waste any time getting on the board in this one, with Tyler Toffoli scoring his second goal of the playoffs just eight minutes into the game. Anze Kopitar added another goal just five minutes later, and Jonathan Quick made it all stick as he made 30 saves in his first shutout victory of this year’s postseason.
More so than the goals the Kings scored in that first period, it was the constant offensive pressure that really stood out. The Sharks are a team known for their ability to move the puck at will, especially on home ice, but all of that ground to a halt in the first period as the Kings jumped out to an early 18-6 advantage in shots on goal. The most impressive thing about the play of the Kings in that period was that they were able to perform their magic without the benefit of a constant string of power plays, as they only went on the man-advantage with 32 seconds remaining in the frame.
The puck movement the Kings showed throughout the period was impressive, but there was perhaps no more perfect representation of that skill than the Kopitar goal. On a 3-on-2 rush following one of San Jose’s few good opportunities, the Kings had a nifty give and go play by Dustin Brown and Kopitar on their way down the ice. Brown eventually got a pass back from Kopitar and fired a shot on net, and Antti Niemi couldn’t control the rebound as Kopitar potted the rebound goal to make it a 2-0 affair.
That ability to not only keep the defense and goaltender guessing with puck movement, but also to crash the net and take advantage of rebound opportunities, was a key for the Kings on that goal, and will be a key moving forward in the series.
Getting pucks to the net wasn’t limited to the first period for the Kings, either. As the second period got underway, the Kings came down the ice on a power play, and Marian Gaborik patiently fed the puck to Jeff Carter along the boards. Carter found some open ice and immediately drove to the net, and his shot from in tight ended up deflecting off of Brad Stuart’s skate and in past Niemi to make it a 3-0 game, and from there the Kings had things well in hand.
Getting to the net and actually putting a shot in may have carried a low likelihood of success on the play (Carter was at a bit of an odd angle on the play), but it still paid off as Stuart was the unwilling victim of bad luck. Putting shots on goal is never a bad strategy, and Carter proved it with his short-side tally to begin the second period.
The one thing the Kings will have to clean up a little bit in Game 6 will be their indiscipline. The Sharks possess a lethal power play, and the Kings kept giving them opportunities on the man-advantage in the late stages of the game. Kyle Clifford and Carter both picked up penalties late in the second period, and Kopitar and Justin Williams followed suit in the third. The Sharks may not have found the back of the net with any of those opportunities, but they very well could have, and we’d be talking about a different game if they did.
Even with that quibble about their play, the Kings proved a lot of doubters wrong with their ability to go into hostile territory and win a game on Saturday night. If they can defend home ice again and win on Monday, then this series will have run the gamut from being a foregone conclusion to being one that’s a toss-up. That in itself would be a huge accomplishment for the Kings, and the Sharks will undoubtedly be trying their hardest not to let that happen when the series resumes at Staples Center.