What started as a game of crazy bounces and deflections ended precisely that way in overtime and put the Kings on the verge of a stunning playoff elimination.
Sharks star forward Patrick Marleau didn't get much on a backhand effort, but he didn't need to do so. His slow shot deflected off the stick of Kings defenseman Slava Voynov at 6 minutes 20 seconds of overtime past goalie Jonathan Quick, giving San Jose a 4-3 win over the Kings in Game 3 of their Western Conference quarterfinal playoff series Tuesday night at Staples Center.
The Sharks have a 3-0 series lead and could finish the series in Game 4 on Thursday night. For the Kings, the last time they trailed 3-0 in a playoff series was in 2000 against Detroit, and they ended up being swept by the Red Wings.
"It's a tough hill and we won't go quietly away, that's for sure," Kings Coach Darryl Sutter said.
The effort was better than in two previous games but the result was the same. The Kings, who won the Stanley Cup two years ago, are one game from a first-round playoff exit. They've allowed 17 goals in three playoff games, a departure from their normal defensive mind-set.
"They're a good hockey club, I'm not saying because they're up 3-0 in the series," Sutter said. "That's a really good hockey club over there."
It was a cruel ending for Kings fans. Marleau's was the only shot the Sharks had in overtime. The Kings had dominated the overtime so much in fact that the Sharks were forced to call a timeout to regroup.
This was supposed to be the blueprint of the Kings-Sharks playoff series: a tight game, not a rash of undisciplined breakdowns and a series of outnumbered attacks. It featured one surge of momentum going one way, then the other. It was even hold-your-breath hockey before it reached overtime.
So it took three games to arrive, following two high-scoring affairs — high-scoring at least for the Sharks, who scored six goals in the opener and seven unanswered goals in Game 2.
"It was just going back and forth, a good physical game," Sharks captain Joe Thornton said. "I thought our power play could have ended it with two minutes left in the game, but it didn't."
The Kings were fighting for their playoff lives and responded as such, playing their best game of the series. They took a 3-2 lead 51 seconds into the third period as Jeff Carter redirected an Anze Kopitar shot past Sharks goalie Antti Niemi on the power play.
The Sharks tied it at 9:17, shortly after San Jose's power play had expired, with rookie Tomas Hertl hacking away on multiple attempts in front and finally putting it past Quick as the Kings were unable to clear it out.
That forced overtime for the first time in this series. In fact, the last time the Kings found themselves in overtime was in June, when they were eliminated in Game 5 against Chicago in the Western Conference final in double overtime.
For the first time in this series, Kings star players stepped up. Scoring goals were Jarret Stoll, Marian Gaborik and Carter. Defenseman Drew Doughty had two assists and Kopitar played a strong two-way game in addition to his assist.
Doughty spoke about the effort required by the team's leaders in Game 3 after the morning skate. The Kings were rocked by numerous breakdowns in Sunday's 7-2 loss at San Jose in Game 2.
The early signs, however, did not look good for the Kings and Doughty.
San Jose scored a mere 3:16 into the game, with Thornton setting up Brent Burns. Thornton's pass appeared to hit a skate, the puck went to Burns in the left circle, and he put a knuckling shot past Quick.
Doughty missed a few shifts in the first period but returned. The Kings scored back-to-back goals in the second period to take a 2-1 lead with Stoll getting his first of the playoffs, at 4:48, on a one-timer from the left circle.
Gaborik broke the tie with an outstanding solo effort in what was close to an end-to-end rush down the left side, finishing off with a backhander past Niemi at 7:59. San Jose rookie Matt Nieto, who grew up in Long Beach, tied it shortly thereafter, at 2-2, at 9:17, setting the stage for the third period.