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Kings rally behind top forwards to force Game 7

by Corey Masisak

SAN JOSE -- Although the San Jose Sharks' fourth line generated plenty of attention for its play in the first couple games, the reason the Los Angeles Kings were facing a 3-0 deficit in the Western Conference First Round series was the lopsided disparity between the performances by the top forwards on each team.

The same can be said about why there will be a Game 7 in this series Wednesday at SAP Center (10 p.m. ET; CBC, RDS2, NBCSN, PRIME, CSN-CA). In the past three games, the top forwards wearing black and silver jerseys have outproduced the ones wearing black and teal.

"When I look at this series, our core, our high-end players if you will, got the better of theirs in the first two to three games, and it certainly has swung in their favor now," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "The series as a whole is created that way so we get an opportunity to settle it all here in Game 7. For us, we believe in that group, and if we want to have success, it has to go through our core. They have to find ways to elevate their play and carry the team, and everybody else has to follow them. Some of those players have had good looks, some open nets, in fact, that they haven't scored on.

"That's all in the past now. We have to get a winning performance out of a lot of players who maybe have not had that over the last little bit, but we're counting on it [Wednesday]."

The Sharks' top nine forwards combined for 12 goals and 32 points in the first three games, all San Jose victories. The Sharks had 17 goals.

In the past three, the top nine forwards have four goals and seven points. That is all four of the goals the Sharks have in three consecutive losses. James Sheppard, who spent much of Game 6 on the fourth line, has two of the four goals.

To narrow it down, the top five San Jose forwards, the "big guns" for this argument (that's Brent Burns, Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton), have combined for one goal and three points in the three defeats.

"Yeah, it's always one of those things where you've got to perform, and we haven't been up to par with that the last few games," Pavelski said. "It's on us."

Conversely, the Kings' top nine forwards (by average time on ice, because Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter has been far less consistent with his lines) had five goals and 10 points in the first three games of the series, then 11 goals and 21 points in the past three.

The Sharks got some goals from their fourth line in the first few games, and the Kings have had a couple from the forwards who see the least amount of ice time in the past three, but the differences between the top forwards in each set of games is striking.

"I think a big part of it is execution," Pavelski said. "We've had some looks, we've had some empty nets. It's about finishing and doing all that stuff."

San Jose stormed to a 2-0 series lead and won Game 3 in overtime, and a common denominator in the first three games was the scoring chances were flowing for the Sharks. Los Angeles struggled with San Jose's speed, quickness and ability to transition from defense to offense.

The Kings have made adjustments, and the Sharks aren't finding nearly as many odd-man rushes or as much room to operate in the neutral zone.

The Sharks' top forwards have not been able to generate as many shots, let alone goals or assists. Burns has nine shots on goal in the past two games, but Couture, Marleau, Pavelski and Thornton have combined for 13.

"I think it's something that collectively we need to," McLellan said when asked about Pavelski's lack of shots on goal. "They're the stingiest group in the League as far as shots. We can't be misled by Games 1 and 2. They gave up more outnumbered rushes in those first two games than they have in the rest of the series combined.

"But collectively to create a scoring chance against this group, it takes five guys. It's not necessarily the shooter all the time. It's people doing things around them as well. We have had opportunities on the power play even to get those shots through and we chose not to take them. We have to go back to understanding how stingy they can be and accept that and take those shots when they present themselves."

The Sharks have one goal against Jonathan Quick since Pavelski scored on the power play at 11:36 of the third period in Game 4. They've had nine chances with the extra man in the past two games, including a lengthy 5-on-3 in Game 6, but have no goals.

"Actually, our power play in this series has not been our issue," McLellan said. "Over the last two or three games, we've created some good scoring chances in those situations but haven't finished. We actually had some open nets where it hasn't gone in. I think this series will be won 5-on-5. I really do. Special teams will play into it, and if one team gets a real advantage there then of course that will settle it. I think the 5-on-5 play is of the utmost importance probably to both teams."

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