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SAN JOSE, CA - APRIL 20: Antti Niemi #31 of the San Jose Sharks makes a save in the third period of their game against the Los Angeles Kings in Game Two of the First Round of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center on April 20, 2014 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
In an 0-2 hole as they head back to Los Angeles, the Kings are in desperate need of a win on Tuesday night in order to stay in their series against the San Jose Sharks.
The first two games of the best-of-seven affair have been anything but pretty for the Kings. In Game 1 the team went down 5-0 in the second period, and despite battling back to a 5-3 deficit they were unable to finish off the comeback. Game 2 didn’t go much better, as the Kings got out to an early 2-0 lead but were then buried under a tidal wave of goals as the Sharks scored seven unanswered tallies to win the game easily.
Normally, a return to home ice would be a good thing for a team, as they get all of the benefits of being the host of a game. Whether it’s the benefit of last line change or the crowd noise from a raucous Staples Center crowd, the Kings should have plenty to be optimistic about in that regard, but there are several counters to that optimism.
Chief among those is that the “matchup” advantage doesn’t really play into the Kings hands, since the Sharks have been getting scoring punch from throughout their lineup. Normally a team can game plan against one or two lines in order to slow down an opponent, but when you have guys like Raffi Torres and Mike Brown scoring goals against you, it’s impossible to just dedicate all of the defensive attention to stopping the top two lines that the Sharks roll out there.
Their versatility in their style of attack makes it very difficult to gameplan against too. Whether it’s the lightning quick puck movement of a guy like Logan Couture or the aggressive defensemen jumping into plays like Dan Boyle and Marc Edouard Vlasic, the Sharks can beat teams in a myriad of ways, and in the first two games of this series, the Kings haven’t shown much in the way of being able to stop them.
The play of goaltender Jonathan Quick has certainly left something to be desired as well. Normally a rock-solid wall for the Kings in the postseason, Quick has been thrown off his game by the aggressive Sharks offense, and he ended up getting pulled from Game 1 in favor of Martin Jones. Quick got the call again in Game 2, but once again he struggled as he gave up seven goals on 40 shots.
Of course, having 40 shots fired at you isn’t exactly a recipe for success, but Quick’s poor rebound control and poor anticipation definitely cost the Kings in the first two games of this series, so the team has to be hoping that a return to the friendly confines of Staples Center will be enough to get him turned around.
In spite of all of the negatives however, there is still some reason for optimism for Kings fans as the series resumes Tuesday. For starters, Drew Doughty has been playing some solid hockey for the team, picking up an assist and actually finishing as a plus-1 in the plus/minus column in their Game 2 defeat. That statistic, normally something to be cast aside by serious hockey fans, is actually impressive because all seven goals the Kings gave up came at even strength, which means that Doughty was able to play over 23 minutes and not get a minus rating.
Jake Muzzin has also been turning some heads so far in the playoffs, picking up a nice goal in Game 2 while also blocking two shots and dishing out two hits. He might get some more ice time in Game 3, especially considering how well he played on the penalty kill in earlier games, and head coach Darryl Sutter would be wise to give it to him.
Finally though, the Kings need look no further for inspiration than last season’s series between the two teams. In that series, the Kings grabbed a 2-0 lead on the Sharks after two impressive wins on home ice, but the Sharks refused to roll over and die. They won the next two games at SAP Center, and the series ended up going the full seven games. That series shows that not only can home ice resurrect a team, but it also showed that no series, no matter how over it may seem, really is.
The Kings have a golden opportunity to bounce back and show the Sharks that they mean business, and their effort when the puck drops Tuesday will show exactly where their mindset is heading into this crucial game.