Tonight’s game in LA was beyond disappointing for the Kings fans (18,216 sellout crowd with standing room only announced and unlike the Honda Center for the first two Ducks playoff games, Staples Center was packed). The Kings lost game one to the Sharks 3-2 after coming back from the very early Sharks goal. They bounced back from that to shut out the Sharks in San Jose Saturday night winning 4-0. They scored 2:26 & 2:39 into the first period tonight, ended the first period up 3-0, and even scored 44 seconds into the second period. The Kings scored eight unanswered goals after losing in overtime in game one. Then… they collapsed, hit the wall, stopped playing hard enough, … whatever you want to call it, the Kings had an embarrassing loss at home and many fans are (rightfully) upset with their team.
After the fourth goal in tonight’s game, the Sharks pulled goaltender Antti Niemi and apparently he took the Kings’ mojo and will with him. The Kings scored only one goal against Antero Nittymaki, who got his first win of the series, and allowed 5 goals in regulation to end the second period tied at 5 goals each. The Kings seemed to stop the bleeding when they answered the Sharks’ third goal with their fifth, but they allowed two more goals before that period ended and were quite simply outplayed. The Sharks looked like they had extended power plays. Though coach Terry Murray was happy with the way the Kings pulled themselves together for the third period, the only really good thing that can be said of the period is that the Kings allowed no goals against.
Unlike the regular season, where the Kings could do their best to survive five minutes of four on four overtime to win in the shootout (where goaltender Jonathan Quick was undefeated, 10-0), the playoffs don’t have a skills competition. Playoff hockey is 5 on 5 in 20 minute periods that become sudden death starting with the first overtime. TV timeouts are eliminated and intermissions get a bit shorter, but the game remains a real hockey game until a goal is scored. Devin Setoguchi scored the game winning overtime goal just 3:09 into the first overtime. On the bright side, since their team lost, at least the Kings fans were spared an agonizing 3 overtime game that ends with the same disappointment, but includes decreased sleep and a lot more disappointment.
Coach Terry Murray said you had to give the Sharks credit for their power play goal in the second period, “but outside of that, we did this to ourselves… we get caught out for extended shifts… you’re exhausted, you’re getting rattled…” It’s good that Murray acknowledged that the Kings brought the loss on themselves, since perhaps that means he’ll be able to address that problem with the Kings tomorrow, so they can come back from this demoralizing loss at home to win game four Thursday at Staples Center and re-tie the series.
There are a ton of stats (mostly not favorable) about teams (and the Kings specifically) who lose game three of a seven game NHL playoff series and go down two games to one. I’ve always thought those stats (even if they include the same teams from the year before, since there are always some changes from year to year) are as useless as knowing what numbers have hit recently in roulette or the recent coin flip stats. How the team performed when Wayne Gretzky was in the lineup is irrelevant. This team is a completely different team and only they can decide how they’ll play Thursday.
Regardless of what happens in the series, it was nice to see a southern California team properly celebrating the playoffs. The Kings do more for the first round of the playoffs than the Ducks did during the Stanley Cup Finals the year they won the Cup. The Kings had a DJ, live pep band, temporary tattoos, a beer garden, and other booths set up outside. They had The Briggs (who sing their theme song “This is LA”) perform inside before the game to get the fans into the game and after the second goal of the night, I can’t remember hearing Staples Center so loud before. I’m sure the “Frenzy on Figueroa” comeback win against the Red Wings in 2001 was louder and I was there, but it’s hard to remember the arena being that loud before. Kings fans are hoping their faithfulness and support will be rewarded Thursday and they’re sure to fill Staples Center with another SRO sellout crowd. Perhaps this time, the home crowd will be happier when they leave.