LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Home ice hasn’t meant much in the all-California series between the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings.
Each team has won twice as the visitor, and now the Sharks, who won the opener at home in overtime, are back at Staples Center with a second chance to close out the series Monday night.
“We had the one opportunity that we missed,” Sharks defenceman Dan Boyle said Sunday. “We can’t really think about Game 7. We’ve got to finish these guys off and just play our game.”
The Sharks will start Antti Niemi in goal in Game 6, despite him getting pulled Saturday night for the second time in the series. He allowed three goals on the Kings’ first four shots of their 3-1 victory in San Jose.
“He’s ready to go back in and we have a ton of confidence in him,” Sharks coach Scott McLellan said. “Any time he’s had a bad game he’s come back. The thing with him is he hasn’t had two within a five-game span in a long time. He’ll need to polish it up, just like the rest of us do.”
McLellan blamed defensive breakdowns for the Kings’ first two goals, although he didn’t defend their third goal by Dustin Penner, who had been scoreless since March 13, two weeks after he was acquired from Edmonton.
“I’ve got to stay on top of the crease when they get the puck. That’s pretty much all I can take from the game,” Niemi said. “Just be a little bit more challenging when they’ve got a chance to shoot. It takes just careful preparation and getting ready and not thinking about it too much.”
Los Angeles is sticking with Jonathan Quick, who made a franchise playoff-record 51 saves to extend his team’s season for at least one more game.
“It’s not a number I’m concerned about,” Kings coach Terry Murray said of the shots. “It’s the Grade A, quality chances that are the ones I really focus in on and that number was not too bad.”
The Kings staved off San Jose comeback behind Quick’s steadiness and their defence, which has been a strength all season and which forced the Sharks to shoot mostly from the perimeter.
“Mentally, it’s a little bit easier to stay sharp because you’re constantly getting action. On the other hand, it’s a little more demanding physically,” Quick said. “Yesterday was more of a physical challenge than mental.”
Quick bounced back after getting shelled for 12 goals in the Kings’ two losses at home.
The Sharks will be looking to get off to a fast start, something that has eluded them so far while getting outscored 8-1 in the first period of the series.
“I can tell you it’s not a lack of preparation or want or effort. I’m seeing all those things,” Boyle said. “It seems across the board teams are scoring in bunches, not just our series but other series, too. So if they do score, it’s very important for the next shift and the shift following that, you just got to pick it up a little bit, be a little better.”
The same could be said about Penner, whose physical presence and skills kept him in the lineup despite his lack of impact in the series. He played on the Kings’ fourth line with Kevin Westgarth and Jarret Stoll.
“I’m giving him an opportunity here to back away from having to shut down a (Joe) Thornton line and the checking part of the game,” Murray said. “He’s capable, but the game is just not there right now. With a different look, it’s an opportunity to kind of get your game together and have some success and certainly not the same threat coming at him as a Thornton line.”
Having faced each other 11 times so far, including a split of six regular season games, there are few ways either team can surprise the other.
“Now it does come down to execution, it comes down to attitude,” Murray said. “You really have to get into your own head as a player of making sure you’re paying the price to compete. That’s where we need to be even better.”
A victory by the Kings would force a seventh game Wednesday night in San Jose.
“We’re a really good road team. Right now that means nothing because we have to win at home,” Quick said. “All we’re focused on is playing at home in front of our crowd and giving them something to cheer about. We want to give them something to go home happy about.”