This is what Game 7, especially in a series like this, should have been like.
It just wasn’t the end result the Sharks wanted.
Save for a span early in the second period, San Jose was the better team Tuesday night in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals. But it was that stretch, combined with some spectacular saves by goaltender Jonathan Quick, that lifted the Los Angeles Kings to a 2-1 victory at Staples Center to close out the series 4 games to 3.
After the Kings’ Justin Williams scored two goals 2:57 apart – the first one coming on the power play after an interference penalty on Brent Burns – to put Los Angeles in front at 7:08 of the second period, the Sharks did everything in their power to come back. They got one goal back at 5:26 of the third period on a blistering shot from the point by defenseman Dan Boyle. That was part of a dominant third period by San Jose in which they had a plethora of strong scoring chances only to be turned aside by Quick.
The Sharks outshot the Kings 26-18 for the game and won 30 of 55 faceoffs. They spent much more time in the offensive zone throughout the night, and when they didn’t, goaltender Antti Niemi was there to match Quick with a handful of amazing saves himself.
By winning, the Kings continued two series-long trends. The home team finished the best-of-seven undefeated, and the team that scored first won all seven games.
Both teams’ coaches talked about the importance of starting strong, and it was apparent from the outset that the Sharks weren’t bothered by playing on the road in a game of this magnitude. San Jose won the opening faceoff and spent the first 40 seconds of the game in the offensive zone. Less than a minute in, Joe Pavelski attempted a shot followed by another by Logan Couture on the rebound, but each time Quick made the save.
The teams exchanged high-sticking penalties a little bit later in the period, but nothing came of the 4-on-4. The Kings applied some sustained pressure during the moments immediately after the penalties ran out. Burns and Matt Irwin had quality shots during the final minutes of the period, and the Sharks almost scored first when Bracken Kearns made a steal and passed in front to Adam Burish, who couldn’t get his stick on the puck.
Couture had another quality chance during the early moments of the second period after the Kings failed to clear the zone and Pavelski found him with a centering pass. Couture spun to his backhand and had an empty net for an instant, but Quick covered to make the save.
Burns knocked the Kings Robyn Regehr to the ice in front of Quick early in the second period, resulting in a Los Angeles power play. The Kings took advantage when Williams possessed a rebound from the back boards and snuck the puck in from behind off Niemi’s skate.
Niemi was then forced into some mind-blowing saves immediately after Wiliams’ first goal. The Kings Dustin Penner had a breakaway opportunity after an errant pass by Joe Thornton, but Niemi stopped his shot and the ensuing rebound. Moments later, Jeff Carter had a breakaway of his own by Niemi made a glove save of his shot. San Jose defenseman Brad Stuart then turned it over from behind the Sharks goal and Wiliams almost had his third of the night, but Niemi was there one more time.
Couture and Patrick Marleau each had terrific scoring chances a few minutes later, and after Couture’s shot, it turned into an odd-man rush for the Kings as San Jose was caught on a line change. Slava Voynov left the puck for the trailing Anze Kopitar, who quickly dished it to Williams at the left circle. Williams fired off a quick shot that found the left side of the goal for a 2-0 Kings advantage.
The Sharks had a couple more good shots in the second, and then had the Kings completely on their heels throughout the third period. During the first minute of the period, Quick was forced to make saves on shots by Scott Gomez and Justin Braun. Boyle finally broke through when his shot skidded under Quick’s right leg and through to cut the deficit to 2-1.
Amid a flurry of excellent scoring chances, the best came at 14:55 when Marc-Edouard Vlasic took a shot off a faceoff in the offensive zone and the rebound bounced to Pavelski. He had an empty net for a moment, but couldn’t settle the puck initially. Pavelski still fired off a high-percentage shot, but Quick ranged fully to his left to stop it with his glove.
With Niemi pulled for an extra attacker as time wound down, Couture had another quality shot with plenty of time and space, but Quick was there one more time. The Sharks pressured Quick the entire time Niemi went to the bench but simply couldn’t register the equalizer.
The horn finally sounded and the Kings had held on, advancing to the Western Conference Finals for the second year in a row. The postgame handshakes were full of mutual respect, as both teams were well-aware just how even this series was.
STAR OF THE GAME: Justin Williams. The Kings’ winger scored both of his team’s goals during a 2:57 stretch of the third period. He almost had the hat trick but his point-blank shot after a Sharks turnover was nullified by Niemi.
GAME DATA: The Kings have won all seven of their home games in the postseason and 14 in a row dating back to the regular season. … Four of the seven games in the series ended with a final score of 2-1, including all three of the Sharks’ wins. … Boyle’s goal was his third of the postseason.
INJURY REPORT: There were no changes from Game 6. The Sharks’ Adam Burish was returned for his second straight game on the fourth line. Jason Demers and Marty Havlat continued to be out. Jarret Stoll continued to sit out with an injury he sustained in Game 1 of the series.
TEAM STATS: Shots – SJ 26, LA 18. Hits – SJ 30, LA 39. Faceoffs won – SJ 30, LA 25. Power play – SJ 0-for-2, LA 1-for-3.
Before the puck dropped for Game 7 of their Western Conference Semifinal series on Tuesday night, the Los Angeles Kings channeled 2012. Their sound crew brought back the pregame video introduction by the band My Chemical Romance that was the soundtrack to their Stanley Cup drive last season.
Then they brought out their closers.
Justin Williams resurrected his Stanley Cup Playoffs with two second-period goals, and Jonathan Quick turned in yet another Conn Smythe-worthy performance for a 2-1 victory against the San Jose Sharks in Game 7.
The defending Stanley Cup champions advanced to the conference finals against the Chicago Blackhawks or the Detroit Red Wings, who play Game 7 of their series on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS). The Kings will do so on a franchise-record 14-game home winning streak thanks to their first Game 7 win since Wayne Gretzky’s famous hat trick in the 1993 conference finals. They will open in Chicago if the Blackhawks complete their comeback from a 3-1 series deficit, but will host the first two games if Detroit wins.
"Hope for three overtimes tomorrow," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said when asked about his thoughts for that game.
Williams, who previously owned up to his lack of production in this year's playoffs as much as any King, came through with his first goals since Game 4 of the conference quarterfinals. He rose to the moment and has five goals in four career Game 7s -- all wins.
Quick continued to play the way he did last spring. He set the tone with a glove save on Logan Couture’s backhander early in the second period and got his left arm out while sprawled to stop Joe Pavelski late in the third with L.A. protecting a 2-1 lead.
"I couldn't find a way to control it, and kind of put a rebound right on his stick there," Quick told TSN. "You're just trying to get body coverage and [I was] fortunate that ends up in my glove."
Dan Boyle scored for San Jose on a screened slap shot at 5:26 of the third period, but Quick was perfect after that -- finishing with a trio of saves in the final 90 seconds with Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi pulled for an extra attacker. He made 13 of his 25 saves in the third period.
"We made one more mistake than they did," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said, "and we couldn't get one more puck past Quick."
Williams said Quick made the difference as the Sharks poured on the pressure in the final minutes
"He made some awesome saves to preserve the lead there," Williams told NBC Sports Network. "We kind of sat back in the third [period] there, but we got big goals when we needed them."
All seven games were won by the team scoring first, and Williams opened the scoring 4:11 into the second period during a power play on the Kings’ first shot on goal in nearly 19 minutes. Slava Voynov’s shot missed wide left, but it came off the end boards and Niemi was unable to cover it at the post. Williams was left free to poke away at the puck, and he whacked it past Niemi’s right leg pad and into the net as Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun arrived too late.
"I think the most important part of this series, as has been well-documented, is the team that scored the first goal was the team that won games. And that was the same tonight," Sutter said. "In terms of points, or special players, or anything like that, I think both teams are going to say that one team lost, one team won, and we scored the first goal and were able to find a way."
With the crowd still roaring, Williams finished an odd-man rush and scored again at 7:08. Anze Kopitar fed him a pass on the left side that Williams stopped and snapped by Niemi.
Niemi faced only 18 shots but kept the Sharks in the game after L.A. went up 2-0 with a handful of huge saves, including one on a breakaway by Jeff Carter.
“We’re not playing tonight if Nemo doesn’t play the way he did down the stretch," McLellan said. "In fact, I don’t even think we get to play against Vancouver if Nemo doesn’t play the way he did down the stretch. He’s up for the Vezina, he’s our team MVP for a reason.”
San Jose imploded with a pair of offensive zone penalties 190 feet from its own net in the second period. Brent Burns knocked down Robyn Regehr to set up Williams’ first goal, and Bracken Kearns tripped Jake Muzzin.
At the other end, the Sharks could only nibble at Quick. Matt Irwin had a pair of shots that squirted wide through traffic and that was about as close as the Sharks got.
Both teams began strong and played a free-flowing pace fitting of a Game 7. There were four faceoffs in the first eight-plus minutes of the game and few scoring chances other than a scramble in front by the Kings and a shot from the high slot by Matt Irwin. San Jose outshot L.A. 5-3 in the first 20 minutes -- the fewest shots by two teams in a playoff game this spring.
"That team was as good as us," Sutter said. "It was a low-scoring series; it was crazy, what was it 14-10, so it's 2 to 1.4. When you do it, that's how close it is."