After taking a commanding 3-0 series lead over the rival Los Angeles Kings, the San Jose Sharks had a chance to sweep the team that knocked them out last year, be the first Western Conference team to move on to the Western Conference semifinals, and do it in dominating fashion.
Unfortunately, that would not happen.
The Kings won the game 6-3, and now go back to San Jose with just enough confidence to think to themselves, “Why can’t we come back from this?”
But should the Sharks be concerned about their Game 4 loss? Absolutely not.
The series is now 3-1, and Game 5 is back in San Jose. If they lose that, Game 6 is in LA, and if they lose that, they go back home to San Jose. The Sharks were dominant at home this year, and the Kings have beaten the Sharks at SAP Center once in the past three years. The Sharks have three chances to knock out the Kings and two of their chances are on home ice, which bodes well for the Sharks. They’ll now have a 3-1 series lead over their rival team, and a chance to finish them off in front of their home fans Saturday night. That gives the Sharks a massive advantage.
It also doesn’t hurt the Sharks case that they have been better than the Kings in every single game so far in this series. As an overall team, they’ve just played better. Despite that, they got some very lucky bounces in Game 3 that gave them the win over the Kings. Even though the Sharks as a team played better, they would not have won if Robyn Regehr hadn’t run into his own goalie, or if Slava Voynov‘s stick didn’t deflect in the overtime winner. But that’s how playoff hockey goes. Sometimes you get the lucky breaks, and sometimes you don’t. Last night, the Sharks didn’t. Two of the Kings’ goals came off awkward caroms off the boards or a Sharks player and fell directly to their stick. Take those two away (and the empty netter because the Sharks wouldn’t have an empty net) and that game goes to overtime where anybody can win. The Sharks dominated even strength shots, and even on the power play had two glorious chances with Jonathan Quick far out the net that if they got their stick on the puck a split second sooner, would be in the back of the net. Playoff hockey has those weird little bounces, and last night none of them went the Sharks way.
Now, the Kings won Game 4. They staved off elimination. They got all the lucky bounces. Maybe they got into the Sharks heads a little bit. Maybe the Kings are thinking, “Oh we can totally win this” and they have the Sharks on their heels. However, after the Kings made it 6-3 and were 23 seconds away from a Game 4 victory, Willie Mitchell sucker punched James Sheppard in the face, which made Andrew Desjardins, Raffi Torres, and Mike Brown very angry. Then, Justin Braun dropped the gloves with Justin Williams (who always seems to score when the Kings might get eliminated by the Sharks — five goals in four possible elimination games) and Brent Burns dropped the gloves with Robyn Regehr.
At this point, you might be thinking, “Alright Brian, big whoop. The Sharks and Kings are rivals of course they’re going to fight and have some cheap hits.”
I understand it’s a rivalry, and I understand that the Kings and Sharks do not like each other one bit. But what the Kings did yesterday was make the Sharks angry. They made them mad. There are cheap shots and chirps, and I can guarantee you that the Sharks were sitting in the dressing room after that loss angry, and ready to end it in five. I don’t understand why the Kings were forcing the rough stuff at the end. It seems that they were trying to get inside the Sharks heads. But what they really did was make them angry, and send them back home with a 3-1 series lead.
Now, I’m not going to lie to anybody. If there is a series this postseason where either team could come down from 3-0, it would be this one. Either the Sharks or the Kings are good enough to break down that deficit. The Kings could absolutely win the next two, and roll into SAP Center with all the momentum. But I don’t think that happens. The Sharks are angry, they’re back at home where they have been dominant, and they have played better than the Kings in all four games so far this series.
If I were a betting man, I’d bet on the San Jose Sharks to be shaking hands with the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night.