As bad as it was to become just the fourth team to squander a four-goal lead and lose a playoff game in NHL history, the Los Angeles Kings know dwelling on the collapse will only make it worse.
So the task on Wednesday for the Kings was putting the 6-5 overtime loss in Game 3 in the past and turning their focus to Game 4 on Thursday night when they hope to rebound and tie the series at two games apiece.
“I put it behind me probably 20 minutes after they scored,” forward Jarret Stoll said. “It’s a devastating loss, but you can’t dwell on it. We had a good day of practice, guys were smiling and we were snapping around out there.”
Los Angeles looked in control with a 4-0 lead less than a minute into the second period Tuesday night, before the Sharks rallied with five goals in the second period to tie it at 5 and then won on Devin Setoguchi’s goal 3:09 into overtime to cap the stunner at Staples.
The Sharks joined the Minnesota North Stars (1985 vs. Chicago), the Kings (1982 vs. Edmonton) and Montreal (1971 vs. Boston) as the only teams to come back from a four-goal deficit to win a playoff game. Only Chicago overcame that kind of collapse to win the series.
“It was obviously a pretty exciting game for everybody, pretty emotional,” Setoguchi said. “Coming back from four goals is something that doesn’t happen very often, especially in the playoffs. We worked hard and it feels pretty good.”
As good as the win felt for the Sharks it was that painful for the Kings, who had followed up a 4-0 win in Game 2 with a 4-0 start at home before falling apart in a disastrous second period.
The Kings appeared to lose their edge after the fast start, failing to get the puck deep, committing too many turnovers and staying on the ice for shifts that were too long. It all added up to the five goals in a span of 16:21 and one of the most painful losses in franchise history.
“We embarrassed ourselves,” coach Terry Murray said. “We played a terrible game. Now how do you deal with that kind of performance? We have to bounce back. You can’t linger on what’s happening. You do address it and now we got to move on.”
The Kings will need to be able to do that if they want to win a playoff series for just the second time since losing the Stanley Cup final to Montreal in 1993 with Wayne Gretzky as their star.
Just a year ago, the Kings led Vancouver 3-2 at home after two periods in Game 4 of their first-round series—20 minutes away from taking a 3-1 series lead. But Los Angeles allowed four goals in the third to start a stretch where the Canucks outscored the Kings 15-5 to win the series in six games.
The Kings want to make sure this latest loss doesn’t snowball into something bigger.
“You’re going to face some hard times in the playoffs,” defenceman Jack Johnson said. “Last night wasn’t the way we thought it was going to go. Each game is a clean slate. There’s really no momentum carried over from each game to the other. We can’t lose tomorrow night and put ourselves in too big of a hole.”
This was the Sharks second overtime win in the series, following a 3-2 decision in Game 1 on Joe Pavelski’s winner. They followed up that win with a big dud, losing 4-0 at home in Game 2.
The focus between games this time for San Jose will be on fixing what went wrong in the disastrous first 21 minutes as opposed to feeling too good about what went right after that.
“The first thing we’ll remind our players is we were down 4-0,” coach Todd McLellan said. “They have to be reminded of that. We have to point out some of the things we didn’t do well in the game. We have to make sure we don’t let our guard down. We can’t have that emotional letdown like we did in the first game.”
The biggest question for the Sharks heading into Game 4 is who they will go with in goal. Antti Niemi, who has started 39 of San Jose’s past 40 games, was pulled after allowing four goals on 10 shots Tuesday night.
Antero Niittymaki stopped 11-of-12 shots in relief for his first career playoff win, leading to the inevitable questions about who will start in goal Thursday.
Niemi has 27 wins in those 39 games, playing at a similar level as he did a year ago when helping Chicago win the Stanley Cup. The appearance by Niittymaki was just his third since going down with an injury in mid-January and was his first win since Dec. 21 against Edmonton.
“We’re confident in both of them,” McLellan said. “When you look at Nemo’s record when we pulled him through the season, which wasn’t often, he always responded really well. If we go that route, which I think we’re leaning toward, we expect him to be very good.”
AP Sports Writer Beth Harris in Los Angeles contributed to this report.