SAN JOSE -- The Los Angeles Kings completed what will likely be remembered as the most famous four-game winning streak in franchise history.
Anze Kopitar scored late in the second period and the Kings added three more goals in the third en route to a 5-1 victory against the San Jose Sharks in Game 7 of this Western Conference First Round series Wednesday night at SAP Center.
The Kings became the fourth team in NHL history to win a Stanley Cup Playoff series after losing the first three games, joining the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1942, New York Islanders in 1975 and Philadelphia Flyers in 2010. Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, who were members of that Flyers team, became the first players to do it twice.
"It was a result of us staying together as a group of guys. When you've gone to the top of the mountain with the same group of guys it's a little bit easier when you're at the bottom to come up," captain Dustin Brown said. "That's what a lot of this team is about, our guys who have stuck together and played together for years and there's a belief system."
Los Angeles will now try to win a California state title of sorts. The Kings will face their Southern California rivals, the Anaheim Ducks, in a Western Conference Second Round series.
It will be the first time these two franchises, separated by 30 miles of freeway, meet in the postseason. When they met in January at Dodger Stadium as part of the 2014 Stadium Series, it was a celebration of how hockey has flourished in California.
Game 1 is set for Saturday at Honda Center in Anaheim (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN, RDS).
"One, it is really good for both teams for a travel standpoint at this time of year," Brown said. "When we were going back and forth to Chicago and St. Louis, that can wear on you in a series, but now both teams have that advantage here. I think it is great for Southern California hockey to finally have this matchup. It will be fun."
In a decade of regular-season greatness followed by postseason disappointment, this will be one of the toughest playoff losses for the San Jose franchise to digest. There is no shame in losing in seven games to the Kings, also considered one of the best teams in the League all season, but the way the series progressed makes it unlike any other seven-game defeat the franchise has experienced.
"There's been a lot of low points, but yeah this is definitely one of them, being up 3-0," Sharks forward Patrick Marleau said. "You don't usually agree with [the critics], but then you do something like this and it's not easy to take, you know?"
Jonathan Quick, lit up for 16 goals in the first three games of this series, made 39 saves for the Kings. He yielded five goals in the final four games, and two in the final three.
Drew Doughty scored his first goal of the series at 4:57 of the second period to make it a 1-1 game. The Kings took three shots while on the power play in quick succession, the last by Carter near the left post. The rebound came to Doughty in the left circle, and he made Los Angeles' fourth try count.
Doughty and Kopitar were the two best players in this series, and Doughty in particular gave the Kings a big advantage when the Sharks were without their top defenseman, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, in the final two games because of head and lower-body injuries.
Kopitar gave the Kings the lead with 1:21 left in the second. Justin Williams slipped a pass to Kopitar cutting toward the net in the slot, and he deked to his right. San Jose goaltender Antti Niemi was completely faked out by the move, and Kopitar calmly flipped a backhanded shot in the net for his fourth goal of the series.
"This is something we're all going to remember for the rest of our lives," Doughty said. "We're not done yet. We have to move on. We're probably gonna start in a few days now. This will be in our heads tonight. That was an unbelievable feeling, a great team effort."
It was yet another point for Williams in a Game 7. He's earned a reputation with big performances in these situations, and now has 10 points in five career Game 7s.
The Kings took four penalties during the period, but the Sharks were unable to beat Quick despite 12 shots on goal with the man advantage. The Sharks' best chance came from Marleau, who looked like he had a sure goal near the right post. But Quick reached back and snatched the puck off the goal line with one of the best saves of the series to keep the score tied 1-1.
"When they started reviewing it I thought I might have had a shot, but I didn't see it come down until the last second until I kicked it out to my stick," Marleau said. "He made a really good save on that."
One of the turning points in this series for the Kings came when coach Darryl Sutter put rookies Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson together on a line with Carter, and they hooked up for a pretty goal to make it 3-1 early in the third period.
Toffoli sent a pass up the left wing to Pearson, and he eventually sent a backhanded pass back to Toffoli cutting toward the goal and he didn't miss. It was Toffoli's third goal of the series, and they've all come alongside Pearson and Carter.
"That's just chemistry I think between Tanner and Tyler that they've built up probably playing in the minor leagues for the last couple years together," Brown said. "Tanner makes a really nice play on that, going wide and finding him. And Ty, that's what Ty is. He gets the puck in a scoring area and it's in the back of the net. That was a big, big goal."
Brown and Pearson sealed the win with empty-net goals late in the third.
That this series needed seven games was far from a surprise, but how it got there certainly was. San Jose won the first three games and scored 17 goals against the team that led the League in fewest goals against during the regular season.
The Sharks swept the first two games at SAP Center with convincing 6-3 and 7-2 victories, then won Game 3 in overtime at Staples Center courtesy of a goal by Marleau.
The Kings clamped down on San Jose after that, yielding four goals in the next three games to level the series. The Kings chased Niemi in Games 4 and 5, winning 6-3 and 3-0. Alex Stalock started for the Sharks in Game 6 and it was tied midway through the third period, but three goals in less than three minutes gave the Kings a 4-1 victory.
"We were a lot closer last year than we were this year," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "We're kidding ourselves if we think we were closer this year, just because it went seven games. I don't know what it was, [18-5] in the last four games. It wasn't even close. We had a core group of individuals that didn't get on the score sheet. Last year was a lot closer than it was this year."
|Matt Irwin (1) ASST: Tomas Hertl (3), James Sheppard (4)|
1 - 0 SJS
|PPG - Drew Doughty (1) ASST: Jeff Carter (4), Marian Gaborik (2)|
1 - 1 Tie
|Anze Kopitar (4) ASST: Justin Williams (2), Kyle Clifford (1)|
2 - 1 LAK
|Tyler Toffoli (3) ASST: Tanner Pearson (2), Jake Muzzin (3)|
3 - 1 LAK
|EN - Dustin Brown (2) ASST: Anze Kopitar (6)|
4 - 1 LAK
|EN - Tanner Pearson (1) ASST: Trevor Lewis (1)|
5 - 1 LAK
|Dan Boyle Hi-sticking against Mike Richards|
|Slava Voynov Interference against Joe Thornton|
|Tommy Wingels Hooking against Jake Muzzin|
|Logan Couture Elbowing against Jake Muzzin|
|Marian Gaborik Hooking against Matt Nieto|
|Dwight King Hooking against Justin Braun|
|Trevor Lewis Hooking against Tommy Wingels|
|Mike Richards Hooking against Joe Pavelski|
|Jake Muzzin Delaying Game-Puck over glass|