LOS ANGELES — Playoff hockey overtimes are an exercise in madness. The San Jose Sharks were delighted to participate Tuesday night.
That’s because they won. They beat the Los Angeles Kings, 4-3, to take their third straight victory in a series that should now end soon. But Tuesday’s win came by the thinnest of hairs on the thinnest of hockey beards.
For the first six minutes of overtime with the score tied at 3-3, the Kings completely dominated the action by taking five shots to the Sharks’ none and keeping the puck almost exclusively in the L.A. offensive zone.
Then, at long last, the Sharks had a faceoff at the other end of the ice. A few seconds later, Patrick Marleau scored the game-winner.
“Crazy,” said Sharks forward Logan Couture. “That’s the way it goes sometimes. Overtime goals usually aren’t pretty. And that wasn’t pretty. But it’s one we’ll take.”
The vote in the Shark dressing room was unanimous on that point.
“The only time we really got the puck behind them was the one forecheck we had — and we scored,” said Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. “So we were not very good in that situation. They had the bat in their hands and were going to swing it. But sometimes, it goes that way. We’ll take that break.”
McLellan deserves some credit, though, for placing Joe Pavelski onto the ice with Marleau and Logan Couture for an offensive zone faceoff just before the goal. That particular combination had not been on the ice together more than once or twice previously Tuesday.
“We needed to settle down, and those are three guys I trust to do that,” McLellan said. “We needed one shift to settle down. And they got the goal before we settled down.”
Pavelski started it all by winning the faceoff against the Kings’ Mike Richards. Seconds later, Pavelski had the puck again in the corner. His pass to Marleau out front slightly ticked the stick of L.A. defenseman Slava Voynov — who then skated toward the front of the net and also got a slight piece of Marleau’s shot, which fluttered past Kings goalie Jonathan Quick.
For sure, the tight and tense action throughout the evening was a big change from the series’ first two games in San Jose, which the Sharks won by a combined score of 13-5. There is no way that could continue against a Kings team that allowed the fewest goals in the NHL during the regular season.
Marleau said Tuesday morning that his biggest concern was keeping the team’s energy at the same high level as at SAP Center.
“It’s about our game, I think,” Marleau said. “Just bringing our game, full time. We have to raise the bar.”
It was a worthy ambition, followed by inconsistent execution.
The switch in location from NorCal to SoCal seemed to just totally, like, you know, kind of mellow out the series.
Oh, the two teams hit each other, but not as much or as wickedly as they had in San Jose. Meanwhile, a couple of careless Sharks penalties — a puck-over-the-glass delay-of-game call against Jason Demers and a tripping call against James Sheppard — resulted in two L.A. power-play goals.
Each time, however, the Sharks showed the guts to rally back and tie the score — 2-2 in the second period and 3-3 in the third.
We all know the Sharks’ reputation around the league for lacking a killer instinct in the playoffs — although you’d think some of that might have waned after their sweep of Vancouver in the first round a year ago — the first time the Sharks had ever won a series 4-0.
Apparently not. On the Los Angeles Kings’ official Twitter feed Tuesday night, commandeered by actor Will Wheaton of “Star Trek — The Next Generation,” the following message was blitzed out to 334,000 followers during the second period: “Signs of choking include: bulging eyes and veins, red face, being the San Jose Sharks in the playoffs.”
So, yes, the beloved Los Tiburones still have some image repair to do. The truth is, the Sharks have only blown a two-games-to-none series lead once in their history — back in 2006 against Edmonton. The other six times the Sharks have gone ahead 2-0 in a series, they have advanced. And they’ve never blown a 3-0 lead. They have had issues getting to the Stanley Cup finals, mostly when they fall behind and can’t catch up. But they’re pretty good playing from ahead.
“We won’t go quietly,” promised Kings coach Darryl Sutter after Tuesday’s loss.
But the silence in the arena after the stunning ending spoke volumes.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Mark Purdy is a columnist for San Jose Mercury News.
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