LOS ANGELES — Justin Williams and Marian Gaborik have flanked Anze Kopitar on the top line for the Los Angeles Kings for much of this Western Conference First Round series against the San Jose Sharks. Kings coach Darryl Sutter split them up at even strength for Game 4 at Staples Center, and they each scored two goals to help Los Angeles avoid elimination with a 6-3 victory Thursday.
San Jose leads the best-of-7 series 3-1 and will have a second chance to finish off its Southern California rivals Saturday night in Game 5 back at SAP Center.
“We’re certainly happy we got the win, but we feel we have a long way to go obviously,” Williams said. “We’re going take another step in San Jose and it is going to be a tough one.”
The Kings took control of the game with three goals in the second period, including two in the final four minutes.
Williams put Los Angeles in front 2-1 at 3:52 of the second with the Kings on the power play. Mike Richards knocked down a cross-ice pass as the Kings entered the zone and Williams collected it along the right wing. Sharks goalie Antti Niemi stopped his shot, but when Richards whacked at the rebound, he hit Niemi’s pad and the puck squirted across the goal line.
Sutter wanted captain Dustin Brown on the top line with Kopitar and Gaborik, so that meant a shift down to the third unit for Williams.
“For me it’s just getting to the net,” Brown said. “If I can blow my way to the net it opens up ice for those guys. I think Gaborik’s goal in the beginning of the third is a result of it. I gave that guy a lot of space so he’s going to put it in the net. That’s my job to create space for him.”
San Jose tied the score 2-2 when Long Beach, Calif., native Matt Nieto scored his second goal of the series. Nieto, a rookie who played youth hockey in the area with Emerson Etem of the Anaheim Ducks, Beau Bennett of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Jason Zucker of the Minnesota Wild, put the rebound of a Patrick Marleau shot off Kings defenseman Alec Martinez and into the net at 8:25.
Nieto has two goals and five points in four career NHL playoff games. It was another transition goal for the Sharks, a consistent problem for the Kings in this series.
The Sharks had a couple of great chances to take the lead during a power play, but Jonathan Quick made a great pad save on a shot from the slot by Brent Burns and Brown robbed Joe Pavelski of a sure goal by deflecting his shot wide.
“Until you look at the video … but that kind of how felt like [an even game],” Pavelski said. “I think you can look at the second period for one of the turning points. That power play where I had the empty net but didn’t get it. I couldn’t quite turn it enough to get it up. I got good wood on it and it hits a stick and goes by. Those are the bounces.”
Williams put the Kings in front to stay with 3:53 left in the second period. Willie Mitchell’s shot from point was high and wide of the net, but Williams was able to tap the puck into an open net behind Niemi when it caromed off the end boards.
Tyler Toffoli made it 4-2 with 58.8 seconds left. Martinez took a shot from the right point that hit San Jose center Andrew Desjardins and deflected to Toffoli, who had plenty of net to work with because Niemi was out of position.
Los Angeles led for much of the first period before a late goal by San Jose sent the teams to the dressing rooms knotted at 1-1.
Gaborik had his second goal of the series 4:08 into the game, as Brown made an immediate impact on his new line. Gaborik went to the net and put the rebound of Brown’s shot past Niemi.
The Sharks got even just before intermission when James Sheppard swatted the rebound of Scott Hannan’s shot out of the air and past Quick with 7.3 seconds left in the period. Sheppard became the 12th different San Jose player to score a goal in this series.
Gaborik’s second goal of the game, at 34 seconds of the third period, was the last shot Niemi faced before being replaced by Alex Stalock with the score 5-2.
“I didn’t like our net play, simple as that,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. “When I say net play, I don’t mean our goaltender. I better make that really clear. I’m not talking about our goaltender. I’m talking about the goaltender, the d-men, the forwards down low and the secondary chances we gave up.”
Just 25 seconds after Williams thought he had a hat trick but the goal was waived off because of a Kings penalty, Joe Pavelski scored on the power play with 8:24 remaining to make it 5-3. Pavelski and Marleau lead all scorers in this series with six points each.
Brown scored into an empty net to end any doubt and ensure there will be a Game 5.
The Sharks forged a 3-0 lead in the series with an incredible amount of offense against the typically stingy Kings. San Jose won both games at SAP Center by a combined 13-5 margin, then won 4-3 in Game 3 on an overtime goal by Marleau. Los Angeles allowed 2.05 goals per game during the regular season, the fewest in the NHL.
“I don’t think there’s any momentum from game to game other than to try and play the same way,” Sutter said. “We’re going into the cage. Cages are a good thing.”