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Sharks block another nightmare against Kings

Couture, Vlasic get in front of shots in final seconds to help San Jose hang on for Game 4 win

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

SAN JOSE -- The San Jose Sharks were having too much fun for the first 41:40 of Game 4 on Wednesday to think about the nightmares.

SAP Center was rocking, the home fans deliriously happy with the 3-0 lead forged by their beloved Sharks with three picture-perfect power-play goals from three of their best players.

The Los Angeles Kings, tormentors of the Sharks for so long, were reeling, playing like first-timers to the Stanley Cup Playoffs and not the team that won the Cup twice in a three-year span from 2012-14.

It seemed like the party would go on all night, especially after Patrick Marleau scored to make it 3-0 at 1:40 of the third period.

But the good times turned desperate quickly. The Kings scored two goals in a span of 3:55 shortly after the Marleau goal, and suddenly the Sharks were tapping into a survival instinct they thought would not be needed on this night.

Video: Sharks hold on to defeat Kings, go up 3-1 in series

The fluidity and confidence of the first 40-plus minutes was nowhere to be found. Desperation dominated as the Sharks chipped the puck out whenever possible to turn back wave after wave of attack from the Kings.

There was no calmness, just chaos.

"[The Kings] don't quit," San Jose center Logan Couture said after the Sharks survived their personal demons to hold on for a 3-2 victory in Game 4 and a 3-1 lead in this best-of-7 Western Conference First Round series. "You respect that about them. No matter the score, they are going to push. They've won championships for a reason."

The Kings pushed the Sharks in a manner reminiscent of the way they did in erasing a 3-0 series deficit the last time they met San Jose in the playoffs, in 2014.

The Kings pushed to the very end, forcing the Sharks to confront what has haunted them for two years now.

The final 63 seconds were filled with as much drama as the first three games of the series.

"It felt like the last minute of a basketball game," said right wing Joel Ward, imported to the Sharks last summer to help remake their roster and their psyche.

Video: LAK@SJS, Gm4: Jones stones Doughty, denies rebound

Ward was out there with 18.3 seconds remaining and what would be the game's final faceoff looming. He had just spent a Los Angeles timeout listening to the coaches explain the tendencies the Kings have when taking faceoffs with the extra attacker; what plays they like to run.

All the pushing by the Kings and all the pushback by the Sharks would come down to what happened in the next few seconds.

Could the Sharks hold on? Or would the Kings get a last-minute dagger of a goal, forcing overtime and sending the reeling Sharks into the dressing room to think about what had just transpired for 15 long minutes?

Couture, who was there for the 2014 nightmare, was going to do everything he could to change the script this time.

After the timeout, he was sent out for the faceoff against Kings center Vincent Lecavalier. He had won one of four faceoffs to that point, but the coaching staff trusted him implicitly for the draw on the left side, Couture's favored side.

There was just one thought in his head.

Video: LAK@SJS, Gm4: Jones stops Muzzin, smothers rebound

"My job was to tie up or win; you can't lose that draw clean," Couture said, explaining that the Sharks expected the Kings to run a set play if they won the draw. "After that, it was just scramble to get in shooting lanes."

Couture did not lose it clean. He tied the puck up for a valuable second or two as his teammates scrambled to cover as many Kings as possible.

But eventually the puck made its way to Drew Doughty at the point. He fired his patented slap shot, but Couture laid down to block it and the puck banked into the corner

Couture got up and looked at the clock -- four seconds remaining -- but then cringed as the puck made it back to Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin, who launched another slap shot. This one was blocked by defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, his second in the desperate final minute, as time expired.

Couture leaped slightly, raised his arms toward the sky and smiled, celebrating a blocked shot like he would a goal. In the end, it was just as important.

"If you ask all those other guys who blocked those shots, it feels just as good," Couture said. "Everyone needs to do it."

Everyone did what was needed, and the Sharks put the nightmares down Wednesday. They know, though, that they need one more win -- maybe as soon as Friday -- to chase away the demons for good.

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