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Kings look to stall Sharks, reclaim series lead

by Brian Hunter


(Best-of-7 series tied, 2-2)


Big story: Prior to Game 4, Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter downplayed the notion of momentum being big in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but the Kings have certainly experienced the ebbs and flows of it dating back to the first round. They fell into a 2-0 hole against the St. Louis Blues, then swept the next four games to advance. They extended their postseason win streak to six by jumping ahead of the San Jose Sharks 2-0 in the Western Conference Semifinals, but the Sharks have taken two in a row by 2-1 scores and are feeling good about themselves heading into Game 5 at Staples Center.

Team Scope:

Sharks: Much was written and discussed heading into the playoffs about how San Jose has become Logan Couture's team, and never has that been more evident than over these past two games. Facing an unenviable position if they didn't win both games back at HP Pavilion, the Sharks needed someone to step up and drag them out of their hole, and Couture delivered.

First, he scored the overtime goal in Game 3 that kept the Sharks' hopes alive -- after returning from a second-period injury. On Tuesday, his second-period power-play goal staked them to a 2-0 lead and held up as the game-winner. Couture finished with five shots, three hits, three blocked shots and two takeaways. Joe Thornton also stood front and center, setting up Brent Burns' goal that opened the scoring, and Antti Niemi made 22 saves.

"We knew going into this series we'd have to win one game at Staples Center if we want to win this series," Couture said. "We've done our job at home. We need to go into L.A. and win a game on Thursday. We're looking forward to it."

Kings: For the second straight series, Los Angeles faces a pivotal Game 5 -- though unlike in the first round, this time it's on home ice. However, this time the Kings are the team that has lost two in a row and must find a way to get things going back in their favor.

Just like the Sharks came out of the first two games of the series feeling they probably should have managed at least a split, the Kings can look at the two games in San Jose knowing there were opportunities to win. Late penalties doomed them in Game 3, and they had a chance on Tuesday after Mike Richards' power-play goal midway through the third period but couldn't get another puck past Niemi. A solid performance by Jonathan Quick (21 saves) was wasted.

"We've got to start on time," defenseman Matt Greene, back after missing nearly a month due to injury, told the Los Angeles Times. "It's easy to play when you get down 2-0. You open up a little bit. We've got to start on time. We've got to play better right away. You can't be trying to come back every night in the playoffs."

Who's hot: Niemi has stopped 48 of 50 shots over the past two games for the Sharks. Couture has goals in consecutive games. … Quick has allowed just seven goals on 129 shots in the series for the Kings.

Injury report: While it had been rumored San Jose could get defenseman Jason Demers (foot) or forward Adam Burish (upper body) back for Game 4, in the end neither dressed. Forward Martin Havlat (groin) was also out. … Greene returned for Los Angeles in Game 4, but forward Jarret Stoll (head) remains sidelined.

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