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Sharks hold off Kings in Game 4 to even series

by Eric Gilmore

SAN JOSE -- It was early in first period Tuesday night at HP Pavilion when San Jose Sharks' captain Joe Thornton won a race to the puck behind the Los Angeles Kings' net and zipped a cross-ice pass to Brent Burns in the left circle.

Mike Richards blocked Burns' shot, but Thornton got the carom and sent it back to Burns, who beat goaltender Jonathan Quick to give the Sharks a 1-0 lead just over six minutes into the game. Thornton set the tone with his high-octane start, and his teammates followed his lead as the Sharks beat the Kings 2-1 and pulled even in their Western Conference Semifinal series at two wins apiece.

"Joe was dominant tonight," Sharks center Logan Couture said. "That was vintage Joe Thornton. Unbelievable -- creating turnovers, making passes, skating. Skating like a young guy. He was flying. Me personally, got me going. We need Joe to play like that for the rest of the playoffs."

Couture added a power-play goal in the second to give the Sharks a 2-0 lead. Richards scored on the power play for the Kings midway through the third.

Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi stopped 22 shots, while Quick made 21 saves.

The Sharks improved to 4-0 at home during this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs and beat the Kings for the seventh straight time overall at HP Pavilion, including five regular-season wins during the past two seasons. The last time the Kings won in San Jose was in Game 5 of the 2011 Western Conference Quarterfinals. The Sharks went on to win that series in six games.

This series goes back to Los Angeles for Game 5 on Thursday night at Staples Center, where the Kings have won 12 straight games -- five in this year's playoffs -- and have gone 24-4-1 this season. They beat San Jose in both games in the regular season and in the first two games of this series.

The Sharks are undaunted at the prospect of winning in L.A.

"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."

Los Angeles, which went 10-1 on the road last spring on the way to winning the Stanley Cup, has lost four of five games away from home this year.

The Sharks took a 2-0 lead into the third period, but Richards cut that advantage in half with his power-play goal at 9:46 with Burns in the penalty box for boarding Anze Kopitar. Jeff Carter ripped a shot from the right circle that hit the post. Niemi tried to cover the puck, but Richards knocked it home from just to the right of the crease.

The Sharks outshot the Kings 15-3 in the first period, but by the end of the game the shots were even at 23-23 as Los Angeles made a furious comeback.

"It was a matter of laying back," Richards said of the loss. "We have to be playing our game. What we did in the second half of the game is hard work, and we have to continue that. We have to be ready from the start.

"There can be some carryover [from the third period] if we remember what we need to be doing. ... Bottom line is, it's 2-2 and we're going home, and we feel comfortable there."

Niemi gave up just the one goal during the Kings' relentless push down the stretch.

"They were really desperate and they came hard," Niemi said. "We were able to keep them out. Great blocks again from our guys, our forwards and D men. In the end they didn't get too much in the last minute or two minutes."

The Sharks dominated the opening period, taking 12 more shots than the Kings, winning 17 of 22 faceoffs and earning the only two power plays. The Kings didn't have a shot on goal during the final 9:58 of the period.

But at the first intermission, San Jose led just 1-0. Burns put the Sharks ahead when he took Thornton's pass and ripped a shot from left circle past Quick, giving Thornton's line its first goal of the series. Thornton earned his 75th career playoff assist.

"I’ve been feeling good," Thornton said. "Coach [Todd McLellan] is giving us a lot of rest. Once game time comes a lot of guys are feeling good and that they have a lot of energy."

McLellan certainly noticed the energy from Thornton and his linemates.

"I thought they were very good early on," McLellan said. "They established a relentless forecheck and used their size to get our first goal. The momentum they created ran throughout the rest of the lines. And everybody jumped on board. That's the type of game that group has to play."

The Sharks made it 2-0 at 3:55 of the second on Couture's power-play goal with Colin Fraser in the penalty box for roughing Andrew Desjardins. Dan Boyle's shot from the point banked off Couture's shin pad and went past Quick.

"It seems like Boyler always gets his goals stolen from him," Couture said of his fifth goal of the playoffs -- all on the power play. "We need those this time of the year, lucky ones like that."

The Kings thought they had a goal at 6:06 when Tyler Toffoli got his stick on a pass in the slot and redirected it toward Niemi. After Niemi made the save, Dustin Penner appeared to poke the rebound past him, but not until after the whistle had blown.

"It was a quick whistle is all," Brown said. "Those kind of things tend to even themselves out over the course of a year."

The last time the Sharks played at Staples Center, they owned a 3-2 lead in Game 2 with less than two minutes left in regulation but gave up two power-play goals, including one on a 5-on-3, and lost 4-3.

"We were happy with the way we played Game 2," Couture said. "We were happy with our effort. Obviously we lost, but I think we can build off that going into their rink. Play the same way in Game 5 and hopefully we can win. We want to come back to this rink with the lead."

Defenseman Matt Greene and forward Kyle Clifford returned to the Kings' lineup after being out with injuries. Greene, who missed most of the regular season after undergoing back surgery, made his 2013 playoff debut.

Clifford was in the lineup for the first time since suffering an undisclosed injury in Game 5 of the first round against the St. Louis Blues. He played left wing on the fourth line.

Tim Kennedy was in the Sharks' lineup, taking injured Martin Havlat's place and centering the fourth line.

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