Commentary

Stunning finish leaves Sharks in lead

Updated: April 20, 2011, 3:53 AM ET
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- Devin Setoguchi had never heard of the Miracle on Manchester.

That is, until he walked into Staples Center on Tuesday and happened to glance up at the TV in the dressing room.

"It was one of those History Will Be Made commercials by the NHL," Setoguchi said. "When I saw it, I said, 'No way, 5-0? How do you come back from that?' After the second period tonight, it was 5-5, and it kind of ran through my head that it was ironic I saw that ad earlier today."

And just like Daryl Evans 29 years ago, Setoguchi was the overtime hero Tuesday night in a 6-5 thriller, although this time it was the villains who turned the table on the home team.

Down 4-0 after Brad Richardson's goal 44 seconds into the second period, the Sharks put up a five-spot in the middle frame, Ryan Smyth also scoring for the Kings in one of the wilder playoff periods in recent NHL memory.

A scoreless third period, somewhat amazingly on this night, set the stage for Setoguchi, who took a marvelous cross-ice pass from Patrick Marleau and beat an outstretched Jonathan Quick 3:09 into the extra session.

What had been a raucous sellout crowd at Staples Center left in stunned silence.

"This will definitely go down as one of the biggest wins we've ever had," Setoguchi said. "Still kind of a surreal feeling that we came back from 4-0."

The No. 2-seeded Sharks lead the best-of-seven Western Conference quarterfinal series 2-1 with Game 4 set for Thursday night at Staples Center. Just what's in store for us that night can be anybody's guess. The momentum shifts in this series have been insane. The Sharks in Game 1 came out in the opening 20 minutes like gangbusters, and it looked like L.A. would never touch the puck in this series. Then Los Angeles battled back. The Kings had scored eight consecutive goals in this series before Marleau's tally at 3:08 in the second period seemed to wake up the snoozing Sharks.

"Once we got one, momentum is a strong thing," said Sharks winger Ryane Clowe, whose goal Tuesday cut the Kings' lead to 5-4 late in the second period. "You might not believe [this], but even down 3-0 and 4-0, we felt good. It was totally different from last game."

In fact, while you might think Sharks coach Todd McLellan would strip the paint off the dressing room walls in the first-period intermission with his team down 3-0, the opposite happened.

"They're intelligent human beings," McLellan said. "They don't need me to be screaming at them at that point. It probably would have been the wrong thing at that point. I had to tell them I believed in them and that the effort and commitment level was much higher than when we lost 4-0 [in Game 2]."

Some of the leaders on the team also spoke up during the intermission.

"It was all positive, to be honest. Guys were upbeat," Clowe said. "We felt good about our game."

The Kings actually felt really good about their game up 4-0. Just how they fell apart like a house of cards is nothing short of stunning. Now a young team and its fragile psyche must pick up the pieces in less than 48 hours.

"It stings right now," Kings blueliner Matt Greene said. "We got to let it go, though, right away. You give yourself tonight, you feel bad about it, but tomorrow's a new day. And it would have been the same way if we'd won 4-0 still; you would have given yourself tonight to feel good about it, but then tomorrow's a new day. We've got another game on Thursday, and we have to try to get back and this series tied up."

Speaking of psyche, the Sharks are never too far from that topic at this time of year. This stunning comeback can only do wonders, one would think, for their confidence. On the other hand, they can't afford to slip back into the four-period comatose state that saw them seemingly on the ropes in Game 2 and early in Game 3.

"We were fortunate to come back from that deficit tonight," McLellan said. "We're excited about it, but we also know that the mulligan we used tonight won't be available again."

"When we get things going, we can be really good," added goalie Antero Niittymaki, who got the victory in relief. "That second period showed again that we can play at a high level. We just have to do it for 60 minutes. We have to learn a lesson that we need to be ready to play."

What does the coach do in goal now? He pulled Antti Niemi after the fourth goal, and fellow Finn Niittymaki was solid in relief, stopping 11 of 12 shots for the win. McLellan said he would mull that decision over the next few days.

In the meantime, both teams will have a day or two to mull over the Shocker at Staples.

"I don't even know how to explain that one," Sharks blueliner Dan Boyle said, shaking his head.

"We were down and out and showed a lot of heart."

Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.