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Johnston: Kings can come back vs. Sharks

Ex-NHL coach says avoiding penalties is key for Los Angeles in Game 5

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / NHL.com Director of Editorial

For additional insight into the Western Conference First Round series between the Los Angeles Kings and the San Jose Sharks, NHL.com has enlisted the help of Mike Johnston to break down the action. Johnston will be checking in throughout the series.

Johnston, 59, was most recently the coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, compiling a 58-37-15 record during his tenure. He was coach and general manager of the Western Hockey League's Portland Winterhawks from 2008 to 2014. He also has been an assistant coach for the Kings and the Vancouver Canucks.

Mike Johnston believes the Los Angeles Kings have a way back in their Western Conference First Round series against the San Jose Sharks, but they have to be disciplined to follow it.

"They have to keep San Jose off the power play as much as possible," Johnston said. "Every time San Jose gets on the power play, they are dangerous. Even when they don't score, they look dangerous."

The Sharks scored three power-play goals Wednesday in Game 4 and that was the difference in a 3-2 victory that gave San Jose a 3-1 lead in the best-of-7 series. Game 5 is Friday at Staples Center (10:30 p.m. ET: CNBC, CBC, TVA Sports, PRIME, CSN-CA).

Video: LAK@SJS, Gm4: Pavelski buries Thornton's pass for PPG

Johnston believes there might even be an argument that the Kings have been the better team 5-on-5 in the series. The Sharks have 10 goals in the four games, but five have been scored on the power play and another came one second after a Kings' penalty expired.

"This series is just so close when you look at it," said Johnston, who also feels the Kings got to their game faster and more effectively in Game 4.

"I thought they had several power cycle shifts and got shots through from the point and through traffic, which had been a problem earlier in the series," he said. "I also thought they made San Jose goalie Martin Jones work more in Game 4. They got more traffic in front of him for tips and deflections and there were more wrap-arounds. That's their game."

One of the biggest problems for the Kings is the onus that is falling on their top defensemen. Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin are playing monster minutes in an attempt to shelter the bottom pair.

"I just think the loss of Alec Martinez is such a big thing for the Kings. It has really had an impact on this series. Obviously, they are a better team with him in the lineup."

Video: LAK@SJS, Gm4: Burns buries Ward's great feed for PPG

That said, Johnston also liked the way the Sharks hung on in the third period after a 3-0 lead quickly turned into a 3-2 game. Much of the final 13 minutes were played in the San Jose end, and the Sharks often looked like they were just trying to survive.

"I think there is a tendency when something like that happens for the team it happened to sit back a little bit," Johnston said. "But the Kings also pushed pretty hard."

In the end, the Sharks picked up a huge win that could very well have positive long-term effects for San Jose, considering its recent history against the Kings. The Sharks have lost back-to-back series to the Kings, each in seven games, including Los Angeles' four-game rally in 2014.

"They haven't really played well at home this season, so that was important for the Sharks," Johnston said. "But psychologically, any time you can do something good and have the ability to go back to the well and say you have made it through a situation like this before, that's key. It is so important to be able to do that in the playoffs."

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