The Los Angeles Kings became the second NHL team to face elimination during this postseason, but unlike the Tampa Bay Lightning they were spared the executioner's axe as they romped to a 6-3 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night.
That isn't to say that the game was a cakewalk from the beginning. The Sharks came flying out of the gate, racking up 17 shots on goal in the first period, and they also erased two different one-goal leads that the Kings got in the early stages of the game. They also continued to get great scoring from their lesser known players, with James Sheppard and Matt Nieto picking up goals in the first 30 minutes of the game.
To their credit, the Kings took those punches and kept rolling, ultimately getting enough quality scoring chances that they were able to take the lead for good in the second period. Ultimately the Kings hung six goals on the Sharks, and they chased San Jose goaltender Antti Niemi from the game in the early stages of the third period, forcing Sharks boss Todd McLellan to bring in Alex Stalock to clean up the mess as the Sharks prepared to head home to try to clinch the series at SAP Center on Saturday night.
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Ultimately, it wasn't the role players on the Kings that forced this series to a fifth game, but rather it was their veterans that finally stood up and got the job done. Captain Dustin Brown, who has been relatively quiet in this series and had just four shots on goal in the first three games of this series, really broke out on Thursday night, scoring a goal and adding an assist while firing four shots on goal in the victory. He also didn't let his physicality slip during the contest, racking up 10 hits as he punished the Sharks all over the ice.
Brown wasn't the only player that stepped up offensively either. Marian Gaborik, who the Kings acquired for the express purpose of upgrading their offense at the NHL trade deadline, scored twice in the victory, including the first goal of the game just four minutes in. That goal seemingly emboldened Jonathan Quick, who withstood a barrage of San Jose shots throughout the first period. Gaborik also put the kibosh on any idea of a San Jose comeback when he scored just 34 seconds into the third period, putting the Kings' lead at 5-2 and ensuring that the Sharks couldn't overcome it.
Finally, Justin Williams chipped in with two goals of his own in the second period and really helped bail the Kings out of a couple of messes. After the late first period goal by Sheppard that tied the game at 1-1, the Kings got an early power play in the second period, and Williams converted to give his team a 2-1 lead. After Nieto's goal four minutes later tied things up, Williams responded again late in the frame with another go-ahead goal.
Getting that kind of production out of key players on the team is always something that coaches and fans want to see in the playoffs, and the fact that it was those three players doing the heavy lifting in the game shows that the Kings aren't willing to concede the series without a fight. There is still a long way to go, and the Sharks are still buzzing offensively despite the outcome in this particular contest, so the Kings definitely have some things that they have to shore up if they are going to force this series back to Staples Center for a Game 6.