The Los Angeles Kings completed their remarkable comeback on Wednesday night, with Jonathan Quick fending off 39 San Jose Shark shots as the Kings won a 5-1 decision and became just the fourth team in NHL history to advance after trailing 3-0 in a best-of-seven series.
The Kings got a huge goal early in the third period from Tyler Toffoli to provide some insurance after Anze Kopitar scored with less than two minutes remaining in the second period to give his team the lead. Los Angeles added two more goals in the closing minutes, as both Dustin Brown and Tanner Pearson picked up empty net goals. When the buzzer sounded, the Kings celebrated their most improbable victory.
Just nine days ago, such a win seemed all but impossible. The Sharks, who had outscored the Kings by a margin of 13-5 in the first two games of the series, picked up a critical 4-3 overtime win over the Kings at the Staples Center to go up three games to none. Quick looked like he was a shell of his former self, allowing a vast majority of the goals and even getting pulled in favor of Martin Jones in the Game 2 loss.
When the puck dropped on Game 4, it was like the entire series changed in the blink of an eye. The Kings jumped out in dominating fashion in that game, racking up six goals and grabbing their first victory of the series. Two days later in San Jose, the Kings were at it again, scoring three goals on the road and shutting out the Sharks by a score of 3-0 to win a critical game at SAP Center. A 4-1 win at Staples Center on Monday set up Wednesday’s winner-take-all game, and needless to say, it was the Kings who wanted it more as they grabbed the lead late in the second period and never looked back.
That isn’t to say that the Kings didn’t give the Sharks ample chances to take control of Game 7. In fact, the vaunted Sharks power play had six different opportunities on the man-advantage, including four of them in the second period, and they couldn’t capitalize on a single one. The inability to punish the Kings for their mistakes wasn’t just limited to Game 7 either. Over the last three games of the series, the Sharks ended up going 0-for-15 on the man-advantage, and the Kings’ penalty killing unit only surrendered four goals on 32 power plays in the entire series.
A large part of the credit for the Kings’ successful penalty kills in this game has to go to Quick, but an equal share should go to the Kings’ blue liners. Drew Doughty, who scored the first goal of the game for Los Angeles, played nearly six minutes of short-handed time in the game, and Robyn Regehr played over seven minutes as the Kings fended off the slew of power plays. Both players made several key plays to kill off penalties, and their discipline really helped out in a big way as the Sharks feverishly tried to grab the lead in the second period.
Ultimately though, this game came down to guys scoring goals in big moments. Kopitar’s late second period goal really deflated the Sharks, and Toffoli’s goal early in the third really let the rest of the air out of the building. The remaining 16 minutes and change were really just icing on the cake for the Kings, as the Sharks skated around the ice with a malaise reserved for those teams that have let a great opportunity slip by the wayside.
Even though the Sharks’ "lost opportunity" narrative will probably be the one that most defines this series, the Kings deserve a huge amount of credit. They never gave up even when their backs were against the wall, and guys like Quick played some of the best hockey of their careers in order to make some history happen on Wednesday night. With a great mix of veterans and youth, this team has the grit and the scoring touch to go far in these playoffs, and they very well could use this comeback as a springboard toward bigger and better things.