LOS ANGELES -- Five days ago, the Los Angeles Kings were on the precipice of an ignominious departure from the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Now they're less than two days from potentially one of the greatest days in the franchise's history.
Justin Williams and Anze Kopitar each had two goals Monday night and the Kings fended off elimination by the San Jose Sharks for a third time in a 4-1 victory at Staples Center in Game 6 of this Western Conference First Round Series.
The Kings scored three times in a span of 2:46 in the third period to break open a tie game and force a winner-take-all showdown Wednesday in San Jose at SAP Center (10 p.m. ET, CBC, RDS, NBCSN, PRIME, CSN-CA).
"I don't think anybody expected it to unfold how it did," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "I think we started to improve our game with each game. To do what we needed to do, we had to keep getting better. Part of it is the belief system over the past five, six years here. That goes a long way at this time of year."
Williams gave the Kings lead on a controversial goal at 11:56 of the third. San Jose goaltender Alex Stalock was unable to corral Robyn Regehr's shot from the left wing. The puck was behind Stalock, and Williams was able to put his stick through the goaltender's legs and force it across the goal line.
The play was reviewed and it was determined the puck crossed the goal line in a legal manner.
"I felt it was loose, behind him somewhere," Williams said. "The ref didn't blow the whistle and I just tried to dig at it and it went in. I was just kind of thinking either way. If they decided not to count it, fine. I was OK with that as well. It counted."
Replays on the Los Angeles local broadcast of the play showed the puck was visible behind Stalock, but Sharks coach Todd McLellan disagreed.
"We got cheated. Simple as that," McLellan said. "I was told you could see the puck laying behind his feet the whole time. That is why the whistle didn't go. It's pretty clear when you look at it after [it wasn't]. That was obviously the turning point. Got to move on and overcome it again."
Kopitar scored on the rebound of a Williams shot at 13:27 and again on the power play at 14:42 to complete the three-goal surge. Williams now leads the Kings with four goals in this series and Kopitar has a team-high eight points.
The Kings are the ninth team in NHL history to force a seventh game after trailing a series 3-0. Three teams have come back to win a Game 7 after losing the first three games. Most recently, the Philadelphia Flyers won four straight to win a seven-game series against the Boston Bruins in the 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals, a Flyers team which featured current Kings forwards Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. They would be the first players to ever do it twice.
"We haven't even talked about that to be honest," Kings center Jarret Stoll said. "A couple times you see it on TV, they're talking about that kind of stuff, but we're looking to go into San Jose and play our best game of the series and that's about it. We understand we've got a tough opponent and a tough building to go into and we've got a big task at hand."
San Jose has experience in this situation as well. The Sharks won the first three games against the Detroit Red Wings in the 2011 Western Conference Semifinals before dropping three straight. They regrouped and won Game 7 to advance.
The Sharks were not happy with the ruling on Los Angeles' second goal, but they also did not respond well in the aftermath.
"We worked all 82 games to have home ice in this situation," Sharks captain Joe Thornton said. "Obviously we would have liked to win tonight. I thought we played well until that one goal that we thought should have been disallowed. We go home now and it's a huge game."
Williams had the lone goal of the first period. He started a rush with a pass from the right wing to defenseman Jake Muzzin near the Kings blue line. Muzzin turned and sent the puck along to partner Drew Doughty, who carried into the Sharks end before feeding Williams at the right post for a tap-in.
It was Williams' third goal of the series, and they've all come in the past three games since Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter moved him to a line with Stoll and Dwight King.
San Jose leveled the score in the second period. The Kings took three consecutive penalties, including two 23 seconds apart, but they survived an extended 5-on-3 disadvantage and another Sharks power play after that. The Sharks scored 32 seconds after the third power play expired.
Justin Braun took a shot from the right point that James Sheppard deflected in the slot before it hit Regehr near the right post and ended up behind goaltender Jonathan Quick, who made 26 saves and has allowed four goals in the past three games of this series.
The Sharks had played the first five games of this series without making any changes to the lineup, but there were three moves for Game 6. One was health related; defenseman Matt Irwin replaced star Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who missed the game with an upper-body injury. Vlasic missed the final 45 minutes of Game 5 after a hit from Stoll behind the San Jose net.
McLellan also put Marty Havlat into the lineup for Mike Brown, and Stalock made his first postseason start, replacing Antti Niemi.
"[Stalock] has a shot to play Game 7 and I thought Alex played very well," McLellan said.
The Sharks won the first three games of this series. San Jose swept the first two games at SAP Center in convincing fashion with 6-3 and 7-2 victories. They won 4-3 in overtime in Game 3 at Staples Center, with Patrick Marleau providing the winner.
Los Angeles started to play better in Game 3 and looked more like the team that has been a Stanley Cup contender the past two seasons in Games 4 and 5. The Kings won 6-3 in Game 4 and then suffocated the Sharks 3-0 on Saturday in San Jose.
"From an X-and-O standpoint, we're just getting back quicker to our zone," Brown said. "They have a really good forecheck, but if we can get back quick and help each other with the support and clean passes, it gives a chance to break their forecheck and go the other way. From there, it is about puck possession."