SAN JOSE — Why should the series that has made such little sense start doing so now?
The Kings managed Saturday night to stave off playoff elimination for the second time in three days, this time in a forbidding place, an arena where they had not won a playoff game since 2011.
Not only did they live to play another night, beating San Jose, 3-0, at SAP Center in Game 5 of the Western Conference quarterfinals, but they helped deepen doubt for the Sharks at their most-important position, goaltender.
“We just gave ourselves a chance to play another game,” Kings center Anze Kopitar said of Game 6, which will be Monday at Staples Center.
“It's a Game 7, obviously, for us again. We're going to enjoy this one tonight and start getting ready tomorrow and same old story, really.”
The Sharks lead the series, three games to two. And Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said he felt like the task was even more daunting, not less so, as L.A. tries to become the fourth team to rally from a 3-0 deficit in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“We came this far to get two,” Doughty said. “And now we need to get two more. … We need to take it one at a time, but that puts even more pressure on us because we can kind of smell it.”
There were only a few similarities to Game 4. But there was a key one: For the second consecutive game, the Kings chased the Sharks' No. 1 goalie, Antti Niemi, who turned in another uneven performance. Niemi gave up three goals on 19 shots, and was pulled just 22 seconds into the second period when King forward Jeff Carter's shot banked off the skate of defenseman Brad Stuart and past Niemi to make it 3-0, on the power play.
In came backup Alex Stalock, again. Stalock faced 22 shots and did not allow a goal.
The Kings goals were scored by rookie Tyler Toffoli, Kopitar and Carter. Carter and Toffoli have each scored twice and it was Kopitar's first goal of the series.
It looks like the availability of the Sharks' No. 1 defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic may be in doubt. Vlasic appeared to injure his leg in a collision with Kings center Jarret Stoll at 14:09 of the first period (the San Jose Mercury News said he left the game due to a hit to the head) and did not return. Vlasic was Doughty's partner on defense at the Olympics for Team Canada.
Just as the Sharks' goaltending situation was thrown into disarray, things settled down nicely for Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, who was rocked in the opening two games of the series, and managed to get better in each of the last three games.
Quick faced 30 shots in his first playoff shutout since he defeated San Jose, 3-0, in Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals last year. In fact, Quick had two shutouts against the Sharks in that series, the first one in Game 1.
Both shutouts were at Staples Center. This was the first time the Kings have won a playoff game at San Jose since Game 5 of the first round in 2011.
This was Quick's eighth career shutout in the playoffs, and he had three in 2013.
“Quickie played well tonight,” Doughty said. “There's no doubt about that. At the same time, the team is playing better in front of him. I thought tonight was probably our best defensive game so far this series.
“We don't want Quickie to have to stand on his head every night. We want to be playing well in front of him. We want to be doing this to make it a little easier for him. I thought we did that tonight. When he was called upon, he was huge.”
Said Kopitar: “I thought we were able to keep pretty much everything to the outside. We're confident that if they are firing pucks from the outside, he's going to make the save. We just have to eliminate the second and third chances, which I thought we did a pretty good job at.”
Quick was sharp when the Sharks finally mustered some pushback, in particular, at 15:18 of the second period, making a nice save on Brent Burns on the power play.
“We had a good start, a few good shifts and we just tried to keep building on it,” Quick said. “They came with a lot and had a big pushback. It's not easy to win against this team. They're a great team for a reason. We're fortunate to get the second one here tonight.”
The Sharks addressed the difficulties of missing Vlasic for more than two periods.
"Playing five D (defensemen) is not something you’re used to," Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle said. "The problem was playing five D when you’re down 3-0. That’s where it gets a little bit difficult. Five D when you’re up you can kind of keep it simple and play a certain way. But, you’re down three goals, five d-men pushing the puck, rushing up, it definitely got a little difficult but I thought we handled it well.”
The tone of Boyle's interview got rather tense.
“We’ve got to move on, man," he said. "I know you guys have got to do your job. You guys have got to look at this and talk about it through the next 24 hours or 48 hours. You’ve got to dissect it, that’s what you guys have to do.
"We’re going to do our dissecting and we’re going to talk about it as a team tomorrow. We have to win a hockey game. They’re a very good hockey team. They weren’t going to roll over and die. They played well and we’ve got to go down there and win a game.”
It got even more tense when he was asked if the Sharks were "playing with mulligans."
“What do you think? You think we went out there and said, 'Hey guys, we’ve got three more cracks at this?’" Boyle said. "You think that’s what we’re doing? Let me ask you.”