It’s all on the line for Kings after Game 6 loss to Sharks
SAN JOSE — Darryl Sutter wasn’t in a philosophical mood Sunday night, and he surely wasn’t inclined to appreciate the finer points of the Kings’ playoff history after what felt like their 20th 2-1 playoff loss this spring.
Who could blame the coach? A win Sunday at HP Pavilion would have launched the Kings to the Western Conference finals. Their third 2-1 defeat in this series and fifth by that score in two rounds, all coming on the road, sent them back to Staples Center for a decisive seventh game on Tuesday. Remember, too, the Kings will have this seventh game at home only because they defeated the Sharks in both teams’ regular-season finale, earning the No. 5 seed and dropping San Jose to No. 6.
“It’s a fine line,” Sutter said, knowing his team was on the wrong side of that line Sunday because of crucial mistakes.
Players knew it too.
“For sure it’s frustrating,” defenseman Drew Doughty said. “I didn’t think we played terrible, that we didn’t deserve to win or anything like that, but we blew our chance.”
They get another chance Tuesday, but with no wiggle room. Win, and they’ll face whoever emerges from the Chicago-Detroit semifinal, in which Detroit holds a 3-2 lead. Lose, and their Stanley Cup reign will end, preserving the distinction of the 1997 and 1998 Detroit Red Wings as the last team to win back-to-back titles.
That’s how difficult this is. That’s how tricky the road to repeating has been for the Kings, who needed only nine games to reach the West finals last spring but on Tuesday will play their 13th game of these playoffs.
That road took another twist for them Sunday because they were unable to stay out of the penalty box — they took three straight minor penalties in the first five minutes — and couldn’t muster much offensive pressure at any point against the diligent and disciplined Sharks. The Kings looked largely flat and rarely got in the face of goaltender Antti Niemi. Sutter wasn’t happy, and he didn’t try to hide it.
Asked about the Kings’ problems in the first period, when a needless hooking penalty by Mike Richards and an unfortunate delay-of-game penalty on Anze Kopitar’s swat of a rolling puck left them two men short and led to Joe Thornton’s five-on-three goal, Sutter assumed his laconic Farmer Darryl personality.
“Yup,” he said, drawing the word out to several syllables.
“Richards’ was a penalty. Kopi’s was a penalty. It’s not very good when your first two centermen are sitting over in those good seats over there, looking at ya.”
Nope, it’s not good at all.
Nor was Sutter inspired by hearing that this will be the Kings’ first Game 7 since 2002, when they went the limit in a first-round loss to the Colorado Avalanche.
“Who cares?” he said. “So we should make a major announcement tomorrow that we haven’t played a Game 7?”
For those who care — even if Sutter doesn’t — the Kings haven’t played a Game 7 at home since 1989, when they rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to beat the defending champion Edmonton Oilers at the Forum. Doughty, incidentally, wasn’t even born then.
They have a 13-game home winning streak, which includes two shutouts of the Sharks in this round, but they can’t rely on history — either ancient or recent — to get them past the resilient Sharks.
San Jose on Sunday again won the faceoff battle, 58% to 42%, and blocked 20 shots, to 13 blocked by the Kings.
“We probably didn’t have our best game tonight,” said Richards, who acknowledged that his hooking infraction against Brent Burns wasn’t the wisest of moves.
“It seemed like we had a tough time getting it together and getting sustained pressure. And give them credit, they played well. They kept us to the outside for most of the night.”
All of which brings this down to a winner-take-all situation on Tuesday.
“Every game’s been close so it’s not a shock it’s come to seven,” defenseman Rob Scuderi said. “I’m sure both teams didn’t want it to come to this point but here we are. We’ve just got to win one.”
As Sutter would say, yup.
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