The Los Angeles Kings better look sharp Wednesday night. They've got a date with history.
The Kings rode the momentum of a controversial tie-breaking goal by Justin Williams and a pair from Anze Kopitar over a 2:46 span late in the third period to a 4-1 Game 6 victory over the San Jose Sharks.
Los Angeles is only the ninth team to push a series to a decisive Game 7 after going down 3-0. They now head to San Jose with an eye on becoming just the fourth to complete the unlikeliest of comebacks, joining the Toronto Maple Leafs (1942), the New York Islanders (1975) and the Philadelphia Flyers (2010).
Some observations and thoughts from the game:
• This one -- finally -- played out the way we expected this series to unfold. For the first 50 minutes the two sides went at each other like a pair of heavyweights entering the 15th round. Both had the look of potential champions, challenging the other with parries of hard, fast, physical hockey as they looked for a knockout punch. The Kings got on the board first when Williams--who else?--deflected a cross-crease pass from Drew Doughty past San Jose keeper Alex Stalock just 5:39 in. On the whole, L.A. had the best of the play early on, thanks to effective match-ups (Darryl Sutter used the Kopitar line to silence Patrick Marleau's for the second straight game) and some terrific work off the rush. If there's been one obvious reversal in this set, it's how the speed advantage has flipped from San Jose to L.A. The Sharks just don't have an answer for the Kings when they come barreling into the zone.
• The Sharks controlled the better part of the play in the second period, leading up to James Sheppard's net front deflection at 12:26. The goal ended Jonathan Quick's shutout streak at just over 100 minutes and set the stage for the dramatic third period.
• "Maybe we got a break, maybe we didn't. But nobody blew the whistle." That's Williams talking about his game-winner at 11:56 of the third.
The consensus seems to be that yes, they got a break:
Or there's this take:
The announcement of a fine from the league should be forthcoming.
Not that McLellan doesn't have the right to be ticked. The play seemed fairly straightforward: Robyn Regehr barreled down the left boards and threw a harmless-looking shot at the net. Stalock dropped and covered the puck under his pads--at least, that's what referee Chris Lee seemed to think. He had his whistle up to his lips to blow the play dead, but while he was waiting to exhale, Williams jabbed at Stalock, pushing the goaltender back, dislodging the puck and sending it trickling over the goal line. Lee dropped his whistle and signaled a goal.
The rules for allowing or waving off a call based on goaltender contact leave a lot of gray area for the official to make his interpretation. Lee obviously felt the contact was reasonable/incidental and allowed it to stand. But the Kings were equally upset because it appeared that Lee intended to blow his whistle and then changed his mind.
"Intent to blow" is one of the game's more controversial loopholes. Rule 78.5 xii allows for an apparent goal to be disallowed "when the Referee deems the play has been stopped, even if he had not physically had the opportunity to stop play by blowing his whistle."
That looked to be the way this was playing out, but once Lee signaled that it was a good goal, there were no grounds for reviewing the call on the ice.
Good on Williams, He was playing hard to the whistle. But that apparent indecisive work by Lee may have helped swing the series fully in L.A.'s direction.
• Fortunately, the game wasn't decided on that goal. Kopitar's follow-up pair were both beauties that came off him crashing the net to cash in on a rebound. For a team that's reputed to do most of its damage off the cycle or other nasty work down low, they've been doing a terrific job of exploiting San Jose off the rush during the past two games. In almost every case, the failure of a Sharks forward to follow through on his check has created these golden opportunities for the Kings.
• At this point, Williams probably could go the entire regular season without scoring and still be counted on to earn his keep in the playoffs. There might not be a more reliable scorer in the league when his team faces elimination. That's four goals now in the past three games. And if you're looking for a hero in Game 7, he's probably going to be your guy. Williams has five goals and four assists in four Game 7s and is the first player in history to score at least once in each of his first four Game 7 appearances.
• Tough night for Stalock, but he won't wear the horns after losing his first-ever playoff start. He might have had a chance to apply a poke check on the pass that set up the opening tally, but other than that, he stopped everything he should have. No reason not to give him the start in Game 7, but he needs more support from the guys out front. Effective backchecking is all about will, and right now that's a commodity in short supply on San Jose's bench.
• If the Sharks are going to have any hope of avoiding the wrong side of history in this serie, they need something out of their top-six forwards. The first line of Joe Thornton-Brent Burns-rotating-crop-of left-wings has done nothing in the past three games. The captain is putting on a show that's all too familiar to his detractors, going pointless with a minus-four rating and zero shots in the past three games. Burns is getting the puck to the net (11 shots), but has nothing to show for it beyond a minus-3.
The Marleau line has been more visible--a product of its speed, primarily--but the results aren't any better. He, Logan Couture and Matt Nieto generated 10 shots tonight after putting up one in Game 5, but they failed to dent Quick...again.
• The top-six of Los Angeles has found a way to get results over the past two games. San Jose's hasn't. That's been the difference as the series has swung in the Kings' direction.
• Interesting call ahead for McLellan: Does he go with the skill of Martin Havlat or the grit of Mike Brown in Game 7? He benched Brown tonight, but Havlat was a mixed bag in relief. Williams drove the net almost unimpeded on his first goal (until Joe Pavelski jumped up) because Havlat blew his check. But he was involved in a couple of decent scoring chances, including one set play off a Pavelski face-off win in the third. Brown wasn't particularly good in Game 5, but you know what you'll get from him most nights.
My guess: he sticks with Havlat.