LOS ANGELES, Calif. – The Los Angeles Kings hadn’t held a two-goal lead in the entire post-season until Slava Voynov’s shot fortunately caromed off Mike Richards’ body and into San Jose’s net midway through their second-round series opener.
A two-goal lead was one more than Jonathan Quick needed against the Sharks.
Quick made 35 saves in his sixth career playoff shutout, and the Kings opened the fourth all-California playoff series with a 2-0 victory Tuesday night.
Voynov and Richards each had a goal and an assist in the Stanley Cup winners’ 11th straight victory at Staples Center since March. With no eye-catching numbers, Los Angeles has won five straight playoff games after an 0-2 start to its title defence. The Kings are relying on team defence and Quick, who delivered yet another dominant playoff performance.
“We wanted to get off on a good foot, no matter how we had to do it,” Quick said after his 25th career playoff victory, one shy of Kelly Hrudey’s franchise record. “We got better during this game, but we’ve got some work to do.”
The Sharks’ superior speed and passing couldn’t get anything past last season’s Conn Smythe Trophy winner. Game 2 is Thursday.
Opening a playoff series at home for the first time in 21 years, the Kings got just enough offence from Richards and Voynov, the Kings’ promising Siberian defenceman, who had the first multipoint playoff game of his short career.
But the Kings’ scorers directed any praise to their defence and Quick, who yielded just 10 goals in the six-game first round against St. Louis before frustrating the Sharks.
“We didn’t have our best first period, and it could have got out of reach quickly if Quickie wasn’t back there making some big saves,” said Richards, the Kings’ leading post-season scorer. “You could just tell he was seeing the puck well.”
Antti Niemi stopped 18 shots for the Sharks, who scored 15 goals while sweeping third-seeded Vancouver—but Quick has playoff poise that the Canucks’ two goalies still haven’t achieved.
With help from a few fortunate bounces, Quick stayed in control during long stretches when the Sharks largely dominated play, particularly in the frantic opening minutes and again while outshooting Los Angeles 16-4 in the third period.
“It’s about getting it done,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. “When the night ends, you have to have the job done. You can have as many good looks as you want. You can be in all alone. You have to find ways to finish, and we have players that are very capable of doing that. We have players that are capable of scoring greasy, dirty, playoff-style goals.”
The Sharks and Kings are meeting in the post-season for the second time in three years, accentuating their already strong in-state rivalry. San Jose eliminated Los Angeles in 2011 on the way to the conference finals, but the Sharks’ years of steady excellence were surpassed by the up-and-down Kings when they raised California’s second Stanley Cup.
The Kings had not-so-secretly hoped for a second-round Freeway Faceoff with the Anaheim Ducks, who lost to Detroit in seven games—but after Game 1, it’s clear the Sharks have the champs’ full attention.
Los Angeles beat San Jose 3-2 in both clubs’ regular-season finale to finish in fifth place in the Western Conference, two points ahead of the Sharks. That’s how Los Angeles got home-ice advantage in this series, starting at home in the post-season for the first time since the 1992 opening round against Edmonton.
“(Quick) made the saves he had to, (but) we have to find a way to score,” Sharks centre Joe Pavelski said. “We have to produce and create more movement. We feel we can play with them. We felt we played a good game. After tonight, everyone in this room feels they are beatable. It’s not going to be easy, obviously. They are Stanley Cup champs, a team that has learned how to win.”
The Sharks began Game 1 at a furious pace, generating numerous early scoring chances and keeping the Kings on their heels. Quick immediately had to make a handful of remarkable saves before Los Angeles matched the tempo, and Voynov put the Kings ahead with 12.9 seconds left in the first period when he ripped a slap shot through traffic on a rush.
Voynov scored two goals in the opening round against St. Louis, and both were game-winners—including the clutch overtime score in Game 5 that allowed Los Angeles to finish off the series at home two days later.
“He gets shots through, and they’re not going to give you much,” Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter said of Voynov.
Quick turned aside several good Sharks chances in the second period before Los Angeles doubled its lead. Voynov’s long shot redirected off Richards, who got his seventh point in seven games.
The goal gave the Sharks their first two-goal deficit of the playoffs.
NOTES: Sharks RW Marty Havlat missed his fourth straight game with a lower-body injury. C Bracken Kearns made his NHL playoff debut in place of Adam Burish. … Jarret Stoll was hit illegally by San Jose’s Raffi Torres late in the second period, and Los Angeles’ veteran centre didn’t play in the third. Sutter declined to critique the call, but said the Kings “weren’t resting” Stoll while he sat out. McLellan said: “Clean hit. Not even a charging penalty, in my opinion.” … Sutter coached current Sharks Patrick Marleau, Scott Hannan and Brad Stuart during his tenure in San Jose from 1997-2003. Marleau, the franchise scoring leader, was an 18-year-old rookie on Sutter’s first team in San Jose.