Another twist in all-California series
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- One goalie redeemed himself with a club-record playoff performance. The other gave his team pause for thought with his second hook of the series.
Ah, just when you thought you had the NHL's all-California series figured out, you get Saturday night's Game 5 at HP Pavilion.
Jonathan Quick's franchise playoff record 51 saves backed his Los Angeles Kings to a 3-1 win few people would have predicted after the horror show at Staples Center a few days earlier. Sharks netminder Antti Niemi also did his part for the Kings, allowing three goals on four shots before getting pulled for the second time in the first round.
Game 6 is Monday night at what will be a rocking Staples Center. The paramount question now must be just who will start in goal for the No. 2-seeded Sharks, who hold a 3-2 series lead.
"We have a goaltending decision to make every night," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said when asked if he had a goalie decision on his hands. "We have two capable goaltenders."
The Sharks coach then absolved Niemi on the first two goals, citing defensive breakdowns, but he obviously couldn't defend Dustin Penner's goal on a wrist shot that should have easily been stopped but instead gave the visitors a 3-0 lead.
Asked directly if Niemi would be back in net Monday, McLellan didn't commit. "We'll spend time discussing it as a staff," he said.
Just a day earlier, it was McLellan's counterpart taking goalie questions. Quick was shelled for 12 goals in two games at Staples Center in Games 3 and 4, although his team's general defensive breakdown was more to blame than his own individual performance. Still, Kings coach Terry Murray had to answer the odd question as to whether promising rookie Jonathan Bernier might get the start for Game 5.
Murray, in fact, gave that very little thought. It was Quick all the way. We think part of the reason for that is because the Kings feared the emotional damage a benching would do to Quick in the offseason. But more prominently, Murray has always believed Quick had the mental framework to battle back from subpar performances.
"Jonathan Quick has always had the ability to bounce back," Murray said. "He was the difference tonight and he's the reason we're still alive."
And Murray makes no apologies for the Kings being overlapped on the shot clock by 30, outshot 52-22 and outchanced 2-1, as well. So what, Murray said, that's why you have a star goalie.
"In the Stanley Cup playoffs, your goaltender has to win you a game," said the Kings coach. "That's been happening for the last 50 years. Now we have to bounce back with a better performance in front of him."
The Stanley Cup playoffs are when players, and certainly netminders, make reputations that stick with them for the rest of their careers. Quick had a playoff series to forget last spring against Vancouver, giving up 21 goals in six games and committing himself in the offseason to rebounding from that experience. After giving up those 12 goals in Games 3 and 4, one wondered if this was going to play out in a similar fashion for him a year later.
We asked him if he was angry at his performance and whether that fueled Saturday night's not-soon-to-be-forgotten gem.
"I feel if you come in angry, it's going to take away from your game," Quick said. "You just forget about it, you move on; it doesn't matter how many goals they score in one game. The next game is a clean slate and you start over. Not too many emotions going in. You're just trying to be even-keeled and make the saves to help your team win."
We'll save you the rest of Quick's comments. He deflected praise, downplayed his performance and even suggested the Kings limited San Jose's Grade A chances. Yeah, right. His humility is appreciated, but his teammates know the real score here. There likely should not be a Game 6.
"He was lights out and that's what we needed to get this series back to L.A.," Kings blueliner Matt Greene said. "He was unbelievable. He's such a big part of our team."
Added Kings winger Wayne Simmonds: "He's done it for us all year long. He's been our best player the majority of the year."
The Kings, meanwhile, have now outscored the Sharks 8-1 in the first periods of this series. It's a stat that raises a red flag.
"I'm not so concerned about the one," McLellan said of that statistic. "I'm much more concerned about the eight."
The slow starts just can't continue for San Jose. And on a night when the Sharks could have done themselves a world of good by joining fellow contender Detroit into the second round via a short series, they instead came out of the gates half asleep and the Kings went ahead 3-0 just 8:42 into the game.
"We've got to start better," acknowledged McLellan. "It's disappointing. You look at the start of the night -- three of first four shots went in. If we were expecting another miracle [like Game 3], we're kidding ourselves."
Part of the problem Saturday night was a subpar performance by San Jose's blue-line corps both in turnovers, decision-making and poor execution in the transition game. That was exploited by the Kings on their three early goals.
"The six of them are better than they showed tonight," McLellan said of his defensemen. "I probably don't have to tell them that, but I'll gently remind them tomorrow."
And the coach might remind them that it's time to close this series.
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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