Forget about home ice advantage in the first-round series between the Kings and Sharks because the road team has walked away victorious for the third consecutive game, and once again it was by a one-goal margin.
In a tight-checking, end-to-end third game, Los Angeles got what could be the most important goal of their season when Tanner Pearson lit the lamp for the first time this post-season less than four minutes into the extra frame. The play began when Kings captain Dustin Brown dropped Sharks winger Joonas Donskoi with a clean, open-ice hit as the puck exited the San Jose zone. Brown chipped the puck back into the Sharks zone after the hit, allowing Pearson to turn into the loose puck, break in on a partial 2-on-1 with Vincent Lecavalier and go five-hole to win Game 3 for the Kings, 2-1.
Pearson’s goal — or a goal from any King — was a must in overtime Monday night if Los Angeles wanted to stay in the series. The Kings proved in 2014 against the Sharks that the 3-0 series deficit isn’t insurmountable, but even still, it offers no margin for error against a Sharks team that has shown it can capitalize. And even though Los Angeles can now be confident in their ability to stretch this series at least one game further, there has to be concern as errors have been present. Were it not for the play of goaltender Jonathan Quick and the Kings defensemen willing to lay out to block shots in front of him, this series could have very easily swung fully into San Jose’s control in Game 3.
Quick turned away 29 of the 30 shots he faced Monday night, and that total doesn’t include the nearly 30 shots the Kings defenders stepped in front of. And if the Kings escape the early 2-0 series deficit, Pearson’s overtime goal should be revered as much as Quick’s third-period penalty kill save on Logan Couture.
San Jose was on the power play after Kings winger Milan Lucic delivered a spear to the midsection of Sharks blueliner Justin Braun when Couture found a soft spot in the penalty killing coverage in part because Los Angeles center Anze Kopitar had broken his stick. Situated in the high slot, Couture took a short pass from Joe Thornton and ripped the puck towards the top corner, but Quick was able to get the butt-end of his stick on the shot to turn it aside.
The Sharks have shown they can hang with the Kings through three games, and that’s especially true when it comes to producing high-quality scoring chances. In the series-opening game, San Jose had 18 quality chances to Los Angeles’ seven, and while the Kings were able to out-chance the Sharks in Game 2, the series’ third game again saw the bulk of the scoring chances swing in San Jose’s favor. That the Sharks can control the chances shouldn’t be surprising, though, considering they had the highest percentage of 5-on-5 high-danger chances for during the season, meaning when San Jose are at their best they’re earning quality scoring opportunities with a frequency that was unmatched in the NHL this season.
Los Angles is a formidable opponent, though, and has shown time and time again their ability to adjust. If the Kings can slow the flood of chances -- and Game 2 proved Los Angeles can manage just that -- there's reason to believe they can break down the Sharks attack. To do that with consistency won't be easy, but few teams have shown they can be as defensively smothering as Los Angeles.
The Kings' win may have been exactly what coach Darryl Sutter’s team needed to turn the tide, but a Sharks win Wednesday night would put Los Angeles back in a similar backs-against-the-wall position. Adjustments need to be made before this series is back on level footing, and while Los Angeles' Game 3 victory changes the outlook of the series in a big way, it only sets the stage for an equally important Game 4.