LOS ANGELES — Even after two lopsided victories, the Sharks kept saying it wouldn’t be easy coming into the Staples Center and taking Game 3 from the Los Angeles Kings.
They were right. It wasn’t.
But a backhand goal by Patrick Marleau at 6:20 of overtime Tuesday night gave the Sharks a 4-3 victory over the Kings and a commanding 3-0 lead of their first-round, best-of-seven playoff series.
“Coming into the room, we felt good,” Sharks captain Joe Thornton said of the mood at the end of regulation. “Our best period was the third and we thought we could roll it over in the overtime. Our group just felt comfortable that someone was going to be the hero tonight and thank goodness it was Patty.”
Los Angeles was the more desperate team, needing the win to get back into the series. And Sharks goalie Antti Niemi needed to make five overtime saves to get to the point where Marleau could end the game on San Jose’s first shot of the extra period.
That play that led to the game-winner began when defenseman Scott Hannan dumped the puck deep into the Kings zone where Joe Pavelski pursued it.
“Pav got his stick on the puck and I was able to come up off the boards, kick it to my stick and get off a quick shot,” said Marleau of his 60th goal and 101st point of his playoff career.
The puck deflected off Kings defenseman Slava Voynov’s stick, goalie Jonathan Quick’s glove and into the net for the Sharks’ fifth consecutive playoff overtime win and 10th in the last 11 opportunities.
This game was as tight as the others were lopsided with neither team taking more than a one-goal lead at any time. The Sharks got their regulation goals from Brent Burns and rookies Matt Nieto and Tomas Hertl while the Kings offense came from Jarret Stoll, Marian Gaborik and Jeff Carter.
The first two games of the series got the NHL’s attention — not because the Sharks won both, but because they beat the NHL’s stingiest regular-season team by a combined score of 13-5. With the win, the Sharks became the only Western Conference team to jump out to a 3-0 lead as the three other series are all at 2-1.
The Sharks needed only 11 seconds of their first power play to take a 1-0 lead when Burns misfired on a shot and the puck fluttered over Quick’s glove and into the net to give the Sharks a 1-0 lead at 3:16 of the first period.
The Kings got that one back at 4:48 of the second period with their first power- play goal of the series as forward Tyler Toffoli found Stoll open in the left faceoff circle, and his one-timer beat Niemi.
At 7:59 of the second, Los Angeles took its first lead when Gaborik led a three-on-two rush into the Sharks zone, kept the puck for himself, cut across the goal mouth and fired a backhand that gave Los Angeles a 2-1 edge.
The Sharks answered that 78 seconds later when Nieto tipped a shot by Jason Demers from the right point, benefiting from the fact Kings defenseman Robyn Regher ran into his own goalie.
The teams traded power plays in the third period with Carter tipping a shot by Kopitar at 51 seconds in to give Los Angeles a 3-2 lead and San Jose tying the game at 3-3 after Hertl took multiple whacks at the rebound of a shot by Marc-Edouard Vlasic and the puck finally slid past Quick at 9:17.
That set up the overtime, a setting where Niemi has had a lot of success in the past. He is now 9-1 with the Sharks and 12-2 overall.
The victory ended a nearly two-year drought without a win in regulation or overtime for the Sharks at the Staples Center. In the 10 playoff regular season games since the Game 6 clincher in the 2011 series between the teams, San Jose had gone 0-9-1 with a shootout victory.
“They’re a great team and we’ve had our problems here winning games,” Thornton said. “Just a huge, huge win for us.”
©2014 San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)
Visit the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.) at www.mercurynews.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services
PHOTOS (from MCT Photo Service, 202-383-6099):