SAN JOSE -- Going into Game 6 of their Western Conference Semifinal series Sunday night at HP Pavilion against the Los Angeles Kings, the San Jose Sharks liked their chances of winning and forcing a seventh game.
After all, the home team in this series had won each of the first five games, and the Sharks had defeated the Kings seven straight times overall at HP, including both games in the series.
Then, when Joe Thornton gave San Jose a 1-0 lead barely six minutes into the first period with a 5-on-3 power-play goal, the Sharks' confidence soared.
San Jose protected home ice for the third straight time, beating the Kings 2-1 and forcing a Game 7. And for the sixth straight time in this series, the team that scored first won.
"It seems like whoever scores first wins the game," Thornton said. "We did that. Just a huge game tonight."
Game 7 is Tuesday night at Staples Center, where the defending Stanley Cup champions have won 13 straight games, including three straight in the series against the Sharks.
"It's followed a script," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said of the series. "Both times, the teams trade wins back and forth. It's time for us to get there and change this story. Obviously, we're going to have to play much better than the last time we were in L.A. They earned the right for home ice. It's our job to take it away from them."
Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle said he can't wait for the chance.
"It's what we play for," Boyle said "That's exciting. We have to win in their building. It's going to be fun."
The Sharks won a Game 6 when trailing 3-2 for just the second time in 10 tries. The other time came in a quarterfinal series in 1995 when they beat the Calgary Flames 5-3 in Game 6 at home, then won Game 7 5-4 in two overtimes on the road.
The Sharks built a 2-0 lead on the strength of Thornton's goal early in the first period and TJ Galiardi's even-strength tally early in the second. But Dustin Brown cut the Sharks' lead to 2-1 with a goal late in the second, and that's where the game stood entering the final period.
Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi made 25 saves, while the Kings' Jonathan Quick made 23.
The Sharks and Kings each had just 17 shots through two periods, and their defensive battle continued in the third.
Niemi stopped a blast from Kings defenseman Slava Voynov with 1:12 left, and the Kings never recorded another shot, even after pulling Quick and gaining an extra attacker.
"Every game has been close," Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi said. "I'm sure it's not a shock it's come to a Game 7. I'm sure both teams didn't want it to go this far. Right now, it doesn't matter how we win, just that we win it."
Thornton gave the Sharks a 1-0 lead at 6:09 of the first period with a two-man advantage. The Kings' Mike Richards went to the penalty box at 4:44 for hooking Sharks defenseman Brent Burns. Anze Kopitar joined Richards 14 seconds later after sending the puck over the glass for a delay of game penalty.
"Richards' was a penalty. So was Kopitar's," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "It's not very good that your first two centermen are sitting over in those good seats over there looking at you."
Planted below the right faceoff circle, Thornton took a cross-crease pass from Joe Pavelski and beat Quick with a wrist shot with 49 seconds still left on the 5-4 power play.
"Anytime you can score first it gives you that extra sense of confidence," Pavelski said. Everyone starts feeling a little bit better about themselves."
Thornton's goal ended a Sharks scoring drought of 102 minutes and 14 seconds. They hadn't scored since Logan Couture's power-play goal at 3:55 of the second period in Game 4 at HP Pavilion.
The Sharks entered the game with a power play that ranked No. 1 in the postseason at home (9-for-24, 37.5 percent), but No. 12 on the road (1-for-19, 5.3 percent). The Kings took three penalties in the first period, and San Jose took advantage score its first goal.
The Sharks held the Kings without a goal in the first period despite playing most of the period without defenseman Justin Braun. With just under four minutes gone, Braun needed help off the ice with a lower-back injury he suffered when taking a hit. But he returned to the bench with under a minute left in the period and returned to the ice in the second period.
The Kings put plenty of pressure on Niemi in the first period. Drew Doughty, Dwight King and Kopitar each hit iron, but came away empty.
Galiardi made it 2-0 just 4:10 into the second period with his first career playoff goal.
Scott Hannan chipped a long pass along the right boards that Galiardi gathered near the blue line. He angled toward the faceoff circle and beat Quick, who appeared to be screened, with a wrist shot to his glove side. Hannan earned an assist and Niemi earned his first career playoff assist.
"Jumbo (Thornton) has been telling me the whole time, 'Be patient, you're going to score when the boys need it the most.'" Galiardi said. "He was a bit of a fortune teller tonight.
"I had a lot of speed coming across. I think (Hannan) just chipped it up the wall, and I was able to just step in. You know with Quick, you got to get it up on him or else it's not going in. He's been great when the puck's low all series, pretty much all year I'm sure. I was lucky enough to get it through."
McLellan wanted to see wanted to see a goal from someone other than his stars, and Galiardi delivered.
"He's an unusual suspect," McLellan said. "A lot of our scoring has come from five or six players, which is fine and we're still playing as a team. And everyone is important. The guys who don't get on the scoreboard -- goals and assists wise -- they have a very important role to play. They have a very important role to play and they played it well tonight."
The Kings killed off a four-minute high-sticking penalty to Justin Williams, who drew blood from Marc-Edouard Vlasic at 7:28 of the second.
Then, with 6:07 left in the period, Brown scored on a sharp-angled shot from right of the crease, slicing the Sharks’ lead to 2-1. Kings defenseman Matt Greene had ripped a long shot from the blue line into heavy traffic, and the puck caromed off bodies to Brown, who scored his third goal of the postseason.
The Sharks had a 15-9 edge in blocks and won 21 of 32 faceoffs (66 percent), but the Kings had outhit San Jose 30-17.
Sharks forward Adam Burish was in the lineup for the first time since breaking his right hand in Game 4 of the Sharks’ sweep of the Vancouver Canucks in the quarterfinals. He skated at right wing on the fourth line and spent time on the penalty kill. Burish led the Sharks with four shots and went 4-for-4 in the faceoff circle.
"It was fun to get back in, it was fun to contribute," Burish said. "Obviously, it was fun to get a big win at home. It was loud. The fans were great and it was a fun one to be a part of."
Kings forward Jordan Nolan returned to the lineup after being a healthy scratch for three straight games and replaced rookie Tyler Toffoli on the fourth line.
Entering the game, Quick had a 1.50 goals-against average, a .948 save percentage and three shutouts. He ranked first among playoff goaltenders in all three categories, but the Sharks beat have defeated him three times, all by 2-1 counts. But those three wins came at HP, and the Kings will have home-ice advantage Tuesday.
"It's come down to one game," Richards said. "We're a confident, comfortable team at home. The fans are loud and behind us. It should be an exciting game."