Last night was one of the strangest games I’ve ever witnessed in any sport, and was certainly the most bizarre game I ever had the fortune to attend, and so I’d like to just relate the experience of being there to the loyal masses who either watched from home, heard about it, or made the tragic mistake of turning it off before The Comeback began.
Stuck in LA traffic on the way to Staples Center I had a few moments to reflect on Saturday’s wretched performance by the Sharks, and I thought ‘well at least tonight can’t be any worse’, naively assuming the Sharks couldn’t possibly play with less energy and passion than when they got spanked 4-0 in front of a bored and aggravated hometown crowd. So I got there in time to catch the warmups, grab a beer, and sit down with my father and brother, only to be quickly and crudely reminded of a universal truth that we try to ignore on a daily basis: that things can always get worse.
Niemi looked the worst I’ve ever seen him, and the Kings were scoring so fast in the 1st that the PA man didn’t even have time to finish announcing who scored before the next one was in the back of our net. By the time the Kings scored their 4th goal we had seen 8 unanswered goals against the Sharks (stretching back to Saturday) and most fans were too busy being bitterly disappointed and watching Niemi get yanked to even see Marleau tap the puck in to put us on the board. As for the Kings fans, between loudly chanting ‘Nieeeeeeeeemi’ and making Mark Purdy eat his words, I don’t think they realized either that Marleau had scored.
With Clowe’s goal though, you could tell there was blood in the water. It was almost as if the pressure had just fallen off the Sharks’ shoulders and they were finally loosening up and finding their game. I believe the goaltending change was a huge part of that, as I can attest to the fact teams play very differently when they think their goalie won’t be there to bail them out or stop the initial shot. I was calling for Nittymaki (loudly) the second the Kings went up 3-0, because even though I knew Nittymaki was rusty and also a wildcard, I also knew they needed to take the chance and allow the team to relax a little bit and build some confidence. But even after Couture’s goal lifted us to within one, any hope we allowed ourselves to garner was quickly dashed by Ryan Smyth, only to swell back up again in the last two minutes of the period when the Sharks were clearly taking it to the Kings.
McLellan described it best:
“We had nothing to lose. We could have left here at 7-0 and we still lost the game and we’d be down one. So we started to play loose, we started to roll lines a little bit more, we were better on our line changes, we got pucks in behind them. It started to go in our favor. You could feel it a little bit on the bench. The more we did it, the more we believed it could happen.”
But even after Couture’s goal lifted us to within one, any hope we allowed ourselves to garner was quickly dashed by Ryan Smyth, only to swell back up again in the last two minutes of the period when the Sharks were clearly taking it to the Kings. It was that sort of rollercoaster flow that made maintaining any sort of analytical eye for the game harder and harder and inevitably impossible, as by the end of the game I was so emotionally exhausted and stunned that I couldn’t even celebrate properly. That isn’t to say I didn’t celebrate, but there was such a collective atmosphere of shock permeating from both Sharks and Kings fans alike that after the game fans gathered in groups to discuss what the heck just happened.
I’m hoping last night was the turning point of the series, as up until the miracle comeback started in the 2nd period the Kings had played consistently better hockey for pretty much the whole series. Todd McLellan described that game as taking their ‘mulligan’ for the series, and I bet Niemi is thinking the same because I can only imagine the nervous wreck he would be in net tomorrow if the team had not bailed him out last night. That begs the question of which goalie will even start tomorrow for the Sharks, but I think Niemi will go right back in as he was the team’s backbone down the home stretch to the playoffs, and if the Sharks have a shot of going deep this year they’ll need him to get back into Stanley-Cup-winning form.
That was one of only four playoff games in NHL history where a team came back from four goals down, and one thing for certain is that it will be one we’ll never forget. So where were you watching the Stunner at Staples? Or is it the Fiasco at Figueroa, or the Lipstick City Letdown to Kings fans? Only time will tell, as that will definitely be going in the history books as one of the greatest playoff comebacks of all time.
Follow Blades of Teal on Facebook
Follow Blades of Teal on Twitter @bladesofteal
Please visit our NHL Main Page: Too Many Men On The Site.