SAN JOSE -- This might turn out to be the tight-knit series so many people expected after all.
The Los Angeles Kings stormed out to an early lead Saturday and claimed a 3-0 victory against the San Jose Sharks in Game 5 of this Western Conference First Round series. It's the second straight win for the Kings, who will host Game 6 at Staples Center on Monday night (10 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS, CSN-CA, PRIME) with a chance to push to the limit a series that San Jose once led 3-0.
"We're really happy with our game tonight. That's more of the L.A. Kings style of play," defenseman Drew Doughty said after the Kings allowed fewer than three goals for the first time in the series. "It's not giving up many goals and scoring the goals when we needed them. Power play was big, penalty kill was big. Just overall it was a good game."
After yielding 16 goals in the first three games, Jonathan Quick followed a solid performance in Game 4 with a better one Saturday night. He didn't have much work early, but Quick finished with 30 saves, including a handful of great ones to keep the score 3-0 when the Sharks finally started pushing back in the final 25 minutes or so.
Quick's save percentage in this series have continued to improve: .821 (in Game 1), .825, .900, .923, 1.000.
"Obviously [Quick] played well tonight. We counted on him and he made big saves," Doughty said. "At the same time, the team is playing better in front of him. I thought this was our best defensive game so far this series. We don't want [Quick] to have to stand on his head every night. We want to be playing well in front of him and make it a little easier for him. We did that tonight, but when he was called upon, he was huge."
For the Sharks, this loss felt different than Game 4. San Jose played well for much of the defeat at Staples Center two days earlier, but some breakdowns and a rough night for goaltender Antti Niemi left the Sharks short against a desperate club.
Coach Todd McLellan talked about not wanting to play like the team had mulligans to spare when San Jose led the series 3-0, but this game felt like one. When the Sharks did start to play well late, it was far too little and much too late.
To make matters worse, top defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic did not play in the final 45 minutes after being checked by Kings center Jarret Stoll. McLellan said Vlasic has an upper-body injury and his status is uncertain for Game 6.
"We didn't win the game," an agitated Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle said. "Listen man, [the media] do what you want to dissect it. We didn't win the game. You can blame a lot of different things, but we've got to turn the page and move on. Winning teams do that, and we will do that."
Toffoli, who had the winner in Game 4, opened the scoring at 8:09. Rookie Tanner Pearson won a race to the puck down the left wing and connected with fellow freshman Toffoli on a cross-ice pass. He toe-dragged the puck past San Jose forward James Sheppard and snapped a shot into the net.
Pearson and Toffoli were united on the second line with Jeff Carter for the start of Game 4. They played together for the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League last season.
"That was a great play by both of them," Doughty said. "That's what we need from everyone. It's not always going to be [Kopitar] who does all the work up top. It's great to see other guys pitch in. I thought [Toffoli] and Tanner were really, really good tonight and were big reasons why we won."
Kopitar made it 2-0 at 12:52. Quick made a quality save on a deflection by Sharks rookie Tomas Hertl and the Kings were able to break out quickly. A couple of San Jose forwards were caught behind the play, and after Dustin Brown and Kopitar completed a give-and-go, Kopitar put the rebound of a Brown shot from the right wing past Sharks goalie Antti Niemi.
The first period was the Kings' most dominant of the series. They had 22 of the 29 shot attempts at even strength and an 18-6 advantage in shots on goal despite San Jose having the only power play of the period.
"I think it was just managing the puck," Kopitar said. "The first couple games here they had odd-man rushes left and right coming at us. We were bad on line changes and we just wanted to sharpen up. I think we did a pretty good job of that tonight."
It didn't get any better for the Sharks in the second. Carter scored a power-play goal 22 seconds after the opening faceoff when he turned and backhanded the puck toward the front of the net and it went into the net off Sharks defenseman Brad Stuart. It was Carter's second goal of the series. He and Kopitar lead the Kings with five points.
Niemi was lifted in favor of rookie Alex Stalock after allowing three goals on 19 shots. He's now allowed eight goals on 45 shots in the past two games, and failed to finish both. Stalock has stopped all 26 shots he's faced in relief.
McLellan said he has a decision to make with the goaltenders for Game 6 like any other night, but he clearly didn't like how his team played in front of either one.
"I don't have an explanation for [the sloppy play]," McLellan said. "I thought we were slow. Simply put we were slow. We didn't have legs and we didn't execute well which made us even slower. We had poor puck support, and that made us slow."
The Sharks had control of this series after winning the first three games and piling up 17 goals against the team that was the toughest to score on against during the regular season. San Jose raced to a 5-0 lead in a 6-3 win in Game 1, scored seven straight goals in a 7-2 Game 2 victory and got an overtime goal by Patrick Marleau in a 4-3 triumph in Game 3.
Los Angeles played much better in Game 4. Justin Williams and Marian Gaborik each scored a pair of goals and the Kings won 6-3 to extend the series. There were 34 goals in the first four games, one year after these two teams combined for 24 in a seven-game series. The Kings played in seven postseason series in 2012 and 2013, and none of them had more than 25 goals.
This was the first win at the Shark Tank, or maybe now it should be called the Shark Cage after Kings coach Darryl Sutter's comments two days prior, in a long time for Los Angeles.
"No, not at all actually," Doughty said when asked if 3-2 feels less daunting than 3-0. "If anything, if feels more daunting. We came this far to get two and now we need to get two more. We need to take it one at a time, and that puts more pressure on us because now we can smell it. We can't get ahead of ourselves. We still have a lot of work left."