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Sharks advance to 2nd round after outlasting Kings

Wednesday, 04.27.2011 / 3:21 AM / News

Associated Press

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) - It took three overtime wins and a memorable comeback for the San Jose Sharks to get past a short-handed Los Angeles Kings team in the first round of the NHL playoffs.

The journey figures only to get more difficult in the second round for the Sharks, who are hoping this will be the year they finally make it to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in franchise history.

San Jose had a day off Tuesday following the 4-3 overtime win in Game 6 the previous night in Los Angeles.

The Sharks had to kill a five-minute major penalty just before Joe Thornton scored the game-winner. That followed overtime wins in Game 1 at home and Game 3 in Los Angeles, when they became the fourth team to overcome a four-goal deficit to win a playoff game.

"We don't do anything easy," coach Todd McLellan said. "There is some resiliency in the locker room. The leadership showed through when it had to. The belief in the goaltenders we have is very important. We learned a lot about each other. It's just a small part of what we hope is a long journey."

The players got a chance for some needed rest before finding out they would play Detroit in the second round. San Jose knocked the Red Wings out in five games in the second round a year ago. The Sharks won three of four regular-season games against Detroit this season.

"It's going to be a grind," forward Dany Heatley said. "This series was a grind and it's only going to get tougher. We'll take the days (off) when we can get them and come out harder in Game 1 of round 2."

There were some issues that arose in the first round that San Jose will have to solve. The Sharks were outscored 8-1 in the opening period by a Kings team missing leading scorer Anze Kopitar all series.

Starting goalie Antti Niemi got pulled twice in a three-game span and had a pedestrian 4.00 goals-against average and .863 save percentage for the series.

The power play, which was the second-most effective in the regular season, managed just two goals in 23 chances against Los Angeles with both tallies coming from the second unit.

There were plenty of positives, most notably the depth of scoring that will make the Sharks a difficult team to match up with in later rounds.

Each of the top three lines scored at least five goals, led by the eight from Logan Couture, Heatley and Ryane Clowe. The defense also got into the action with two goals and 14 assists in the series, giving the Sharks plenty of scoring options even if the opposition takes out Thornton's top line.

Thornton also showed he can contribute in ways other than the score sheet this series. His 64.2 winning percentage on faceoffs is second in the league in the postseason among players who have won at least 20 draws.

After leading the league in takeaways in the regular season, Thornton had six more against the Kings. His play on the defensive side has shown vast improvement this season as he has become the team's captain.

Thornton has received much of the blame when the Sharks followed up a dominant regular season with an early playoff exit. The Sharks got knocked out in the second round in Thornton's first three seasons in San Jose before following up a Presidents' Trophy in 2008-09 with a first-round debacle against Anaheim.

Thornton then had only one point and a minus-5 rating in the conference final sweep against the Blackhawks last season.

"When you're a player of his stature, you're a focal point," McLellan said. "He accepted the leadership role this year we gave him. To see him battle through the year we had, the turnaround we had and then score the winner, we're very proud of him. We're lucky to have a player like that in the organization. He cares as much as anyone in the organization."

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I'm just excited about the opportunity. I've been on the ice earlier than usual and in the weight room, pushing around a little more weights than usual. Every day I go into a workout with a smile on my face and ready to go. When you do have a little more responsibility, you want to take your lunch pail and get ready to work.

— Brian Elliott to Jeremy Rutherford of the Post-Dispatch on being the Blues' No. 1 goalie