LOS ANGELES--Three Los Angeles Kings goals in less than a three-minute span of the final period have the Sharks facing a Game 7 in a series they once led three games to none.
Justin Williams' second goal of the night and two more by Anze Kopitar midway through the third period broke open a tight contest and gave the Kings a 4-1 victory Monday night over a San Jose team that now faces the possibility of becoming only the fourth NHL team to lose a series after winning the first three games.
The first of the three goals at 11:56 came on a goal the Sharks thought had been covered by backup netminder Alex Stalock, making his first start. Kopitar followed that one with goals at 13:27 and 14:42, and any thoughts of San Jose forcing overtime evaporated.
The Sharks had three players in the lineup for the first time this series--two of them moves by coach Todd McLellan, and one he had no control over.
McLellan made the switch in goal to Stalock after two subpar performances by Antti Niemi that saw him yanked twice after giving up eight goals and registering a troubling .822 save percentage. As Niemi's replacement, Stalock had stopped 26 shots without giving up a goal.
The Sharks coach also inserted Marty Havlat into the lineup for the first time, hoping he could provide the offensive spark his team needed after being shut out in Game 5.
The change that wasn't McLellan's idea came when Marc-Edouard Vlasic was unable to play after being injured Saturday night. The Sharks' top defenseman was the victim of a high hit by Kings forward Jarret Stoll that resulted in a roughing penalty, and Matt Irwin took Vlasic's spot on the blue line.
The game turned into the one both coaches have been predicting all along--tight-checking and low-scoring.
The Kings did have more energy at the start and for the fifth game in a row, Los Angeles got on the scoreboard first when Kings defenseman Drew Doughty carried the puck deep down the left sideboards and fired a cross-crease pass to an unchecked Williams for an easy tap-in at 5:39 of the first period.
A brief fight between Andrew Desjardins and Los Angeles forward Kyle Clifford didn't seem to have the desired effect of energizing the Sharks, but when Joe Thornton was penalized for kneeing Kings captain Dustin Brown--the same player who injured Tomas Hertl earlier in the season--San Jose did appear to step up its level of play.
Stalock, who gave up the goal on the third shot he faced, looked steady in his first playoff start, keeping the Sharks in the game with saves on odd-man rushes and a pair of back-to-back slapshots by Doughty and Tanner Pearson.
The Sharks power play had three chances to tie the game for San Jose in the second period -- including a 1:38 stretch with a two-man advantage--but didn't show much movement and failed to get the puck past Quick. Joe Pavelski did get off a quick one-timer at one point, but Doughty dropped to the ice to block the shot and it never reached the Los Angeles goalie.
But 32 seconds after their final power play expired, San Jose did get on the scoreboard when Justin Braun launched a shot from the right point that Sheppard tipped past Quick at 12:26. The goal was the Sharks first since 11:36 of the third period of Game 4 and ended San Jose's drought at 100:50.
Tensions boiled over after the goal explosion with a fight breaking out between Logan Couture and Kings forward Mike Richard, 10-minute misconduct penalties going to Raffi Torres and Williams, and a series of roughing calls that saw almost everyone on the ice involved -- including Quick, who tangled with Thornton.
Game 7 will be played Wednesday night at the SAP Center.
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