San Jose knots up Western Conference Semi, now a best-of-three series returns to Los Angeles

SAN JOSE, Calif – The San Jose Sharks came out in the opening two periods of game four with speed and physical play enabling them to take a 2-0 lead dominating the defending champions.  Thank goodness they were able to hold on for dear life in the final period to preserve a 2-1 victory in game five of their Western Conference semi-final series battle.

On the strength of a Brent Burns goal to open the scoring early in the first period and a power play goal early by Logan Courture early in the second period, the Kings dominated play in the opening forty minutes.  After goaltender Jonathan Quick kept his Kings’ teammates in the game, Los Angeles controlled the final period, but could not tie the game.Sharks

Game four began with San Jose taking control early and setting the tone.  A little more than six minutes into the game, the Sharks drew first blood.  T.J. Galiardi turned up ice for the Sharks and sent a pass that went too far for Brent Burns.  Joe Thornton pursued as icing was waived off.  In the ensuing battle for possession, the Sharks’ captain and Kings’ defenseman Slava Voynov fought for control.

Thornton won the battle and sent a pass to a speeding Burns who followed up the play.  Quick kicked the shot aside to his left, but to Thornton who centered to Burns a second time.  Burns did not miss sending a potent snap shot past Quick’s glove side giving the home team the lead.  It was his second of the playoffs.  Thornton increased his team-leading assist total to eight.

The Sharks continued their pressure helped by Kings’ center Colin Fraser taking a hooking penalty on San Jose’s Patrick Marleau with just under seven minutes to go in the period.  While the Sharks applied just one shot and did not score, they clearly got under the skin of Quick who after a nice stop to force a face-off late in the short-handed situation, took a swipe with his left glove at Sharks’ center Tommy Wingels.

More pressure was applied seconds after the Fraser’ penalty expired when Drew Doughty was sent off for slashing March Edouard-Vlasic.  The best opportunity came from Tommy Wingels who in the closing seconds of the man advantage beat Quick high glove side from the blue line, but struck iron as it hit the crossbar.  Quick safely covered the loose puck, but the Sharks gained confidence as the period closed.

Despite the Kings continued intense physical play, the Sharks eluded the punishing forecheck.  Although the Kings were leading in hits 20-9, San Jose dominated in shots 15-3.  While Quick was stellar in net, he seemed to be unnerved at the relentless San Jose assault.

As the second period opened, the Kings were looking at not having had a shot since six minutes into the game.  Essentially, the rink was tipped with all the weight down at their end.  Still, they only trailed 1-0.

Just over three minutes into the middle frame, the Kings’ Fraser took his second penalty of the game, a roughing minor, when he launched himself into the Sharks’ Andrew Desjardins.  The infraction proved costly for Los Angeles.

Just forty seconds into the man advantage, San Jose set up in the Kings zone.  The Kings, while getting caught on a change, allowed Thornton to carry the puck into the zone.  He sent a pass cross ice to Joe Pavelski just after crossing the blue line.  Pavelski corralled the puck and then delivered a gentle pass to Dan Boyle who powered a blast past Quick for a 2-0 lead, their first two goal lead of the series.

The Kings had been caught vulnerable again and collapsed into a penalty-laden abyss which San Jose was exploiting.  Still, there remained a glimmer of hope for Los Angeles to get back into the game.  With a little over eight minutes into the period, Sharks’ Logan Courture took an interference penalty against Drew Doughty in the Los Angeles crease and the Kings had their first power play.  San Jose kept the Kings at bay surrendering no real threat.

Los Angeles continued to allow golden chances to San Jose.  With a little more than seven minutes to go in the period, a giveaway in the neutral zone allowed Pavelski to break in on the left side.  With Patrick Marleau to his right, Pavelski elected to shoot, firing a wrist show high glove side.  Quick snared the drive forcing a face-off after killing another threat.

The Kings had an opportunity toward the end of the period when Sharks’ defenseman Scott Hannan was sent off for interference against Los Angeles sniper Anze Kopitar.  Their best chance was on an open net defenseman Jake Muzzin put over the top of the net with Sharks’ goaltender Antii Niemi down and out.

Los Angeles could not solve Niemi.  Despite outhitting the Sharks 41-27 through two periods, the Kings still could only muster nine shots, none of which every really threatened the San Jose net.  The speed of the Sharks and the evasive techniques San Jose was taking to move the puck quickly out of their zone proved too much for Los Angeles.

The Kings opened up the third period needing to take control of the game and their speed appeared to lead the way early on.  The measured Sharks were careful in how they defended against the Kings keeping them along the perimeter not ever getting any effective scoring chances.

Any momentum the Kings could muster was tempered with the high-sticking penalty called on Matt Greene while defending against Logan Courture.  During the power play though, Sharks defenseman Brent Burns delivered a hit to the Kings’ Brad Richardson as he crossed into the San Jose zone.  Burns laid him out with a devastating, but clean hit skating right through him.  Richardson barely rose to his feet before skating slowly to the bench.

Burns wasn’t done with that hit, but this time was caught committing a penalty.  While defending along the far side, Burns boarded Kings’ Anze Kopitar and left the ice to serve his infraction.  It gave the Kings new life.

Los Angeles went on the power play having opened the period outshooting San Jose 5-1 and applying pressure in hopes of making it a game before the night was done.  Niemi defended valiantly until the Sharks penalty killers ran out of gas. 

Kings’ Jeff Carter sent a drive toward the night while the Sharks labored.  The shot beat Niemi, but the puck hit the side of the net where the Kings’ Mike Richards was standing.  Although the Sharks’ goaltender closed off the left side of the net and thwarted the first attempt by Richards, the Kings’ sniper whacked at it a second time putting past the outstretched arm of Niemi to cut the Sharks lead in half.

The Kings had new life and continued to pressure for the tying goal in the closing half of regulation. The Kings now had an 8-1 lead in third period shots closing their game total to a more narrow deficit of 22-17.

Kopitar attempted a wrap-around effort which slipped through the crease with no one in front to put it past Niemi.  The Kings were dominating pay in the third period, but struggled to convert and tie the game.

Los Angeles mounted a furious assault on the San Jose net in the closing minutes generating worthy efforts to score, but in the end, could not.

Even after dominating the Sharks in shots 14-2 in the final period, the Kings failed to convert the effort into a tying goal.  Los Angeles will seek to regroup in game five, an environment where they hold an impressive winning streak.

Game five is Thursday night at Staples Center in Los Angeles. The puck drops at 10:00 PM ET.

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