For additional insight into the Western Conference First Round series between the Los Angeles Kings and the San Jose Sharks, NHL.com has enlisted the help of Mike Johnston to break down the action. Johnston will be checking in throughout the series.
Johnston, 59, was most recently the coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, compiling a 58-37-15 record during his tenure. He was coach and general manager of the Western Hockey League's Portland Winterhawks from 2008 to 2014. He also has been an assistant coach for the Kings and the Vancouver Canucks.
That's the overriding sentiment from Johnston after the first three games of the best-of-7 series between the second- and third-place finishers in the Pacific Division.
"Probably anything could happen in the next few games of the series," Johnston said Tuesday, a little more than 12 hours after the Kings forced their way back into the series with a 2-1 overtime victory in Game 3 at SAP Center. Left wing Tanner Pearson scored 3:47 into overtime to make sure the Kings did not fall into a 0-3 series hold.
The Sharks host Game 4 on Wednesday (10:30 p.m. ET; USA, CBC, TVA Sports, FS-W, CSN-CA).
Video: LAK@SJS, Gm3: Quick splits, robs Ward on doorstep
While Pearson got the credit for scoring the game-winning goal, Johnston feels Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick was the star of the show. Quick allowed a goal on the first shot for the second straight game, but then stopped the next 29 shots he faced to give the Kings a chance to win.
"His side-to-side play and his quickness down low were better," Johnston said. "In the other games, it looked like he was overplaying things a little bit, but he was really good in Game 3."
Quick had to be good because the Kings had trouble generating offense after an impressive push in the first period. Los Angeles had nine shots in the final 40 minutes of regulation.
In part, the Kings are being stifled because the Sharks have found a way to slow down their forecheck.
Video: LAK@SJS, Gm3: Quick denies the Sharks three times
Johnston said a lot of that has to do with the tight gaps being employed by the Sharks, particularly in the neutral zone. Also, San Jose has been backchecking aggressively and turning puck over in the neutral zone.
"If Los Angeles chips it in, they get bumped and can't get in on the forecheck with as much speed," Johnston said. "If the Kings try to carry it in, the Sharks' backcheck has been very good."
San Jose center Joe Thornton has been impressive throughout the series and was very noticeable in Game 3, Johnston said. Though Thornton scored San Jose's only goal and was the fulcrum on the power play, he was also really good defensively, according to Johnston.
"That's when I know top players are on their game, when they are chasing the puck and they are hard on the backcheck," he said.
Video: LAK@SJS, Gm3: Thornton gives Sharks an early lead
The special-team battle has been paramount because the series has been so close; there has been only one two-goal lead in the first three games. The Kings have a power-play goal in each of the first three games and got a shorthanded goal by forward Trevor Lewis in Game 1. The Sharks have two power-play goals, one on a 5-on-3, and scored another goal one second after a power play expired.
"It's almost even, just like the series," Johnston said, arguing that San Jose has been slightly more dangerous with the man advantage. He also believes that with scoring at such a premium, it will be the team that does a better job of getting point shots through to the net that generates more of the offense.
"Everything is so close, the teams have to get those shots through to try to create more offense," he said. "It's a matter of inches in this series; one 5-on-3 here, one bounce there. That is the way it is going to go in this series."