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Sharks falter on the big stage
Kings take Stadium Series match up on Gaborik goal
2/21/15 - By Mike Lee -

After several days of build up, the players finally hit the ice and played what amounts to the biggest regular season game in Sharks history on Saturday night. The much anticipated Stadium Series Game with the Los Angeles Kings was a hotly contested affair, but in the end it turned out to be a microcosm of the direction each team is headed. The Kings Marion Gaborik scored the go ahead goal early in the 3rd period to lead Los Angeles to a hard fought 2-1 decision over San Jose in front of 70,205 fans at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara.

The division match-up turned out to be much more than a hockey game played on a grand stage. The two teams are jockeying for one of the final playoff spots in the NHL's Western Conference. Los Angeles grabbed that spot by virtue of winning the game, hop-scotching San Jose in the standings. They have a bigger card in their hand having played three fewer games than San Jose. Had San Jose won the game, the Kings would have been 4 points behind the Sharks. Now they sit in the 7th position at 68 points.

San Jose also has 68 points along with the Calgary Flames, but the Flames have also played fewer games than the Sharks. That leaves San Jose on the outside looking it for a playoff spot. San Jose hasn't missed the playoffs in 10 years, but their 3-6-2 record in February suggests an early off-season for a team still searching for an identity.

In what amounted to a should win game, the Sharks floundered. All their holes were on display for the sellout crowd to see. Poor goaltending and an offense that can't seem to generate goals when they need them has pushed the Sharks to 7 losses in their last 10 games. Only the conference cellar dwellers, Arizona and Edmonton have an equally poor record over that stretch.

The NHL's celebration of its game in venues bigger than your average NHL arena was a spectacle to say the least. It was an evenly matched game minus the little mistakes that ended up costing the Sharks in the end. San Jose just got beat by a better team. A team that seems to rally when it matters most. And like last year's playoff team, the Sharks fizzled when it mattered most.

San Jose knew the first 5 minutes of the game would be their toughest. Even armed with that, they let the butterflies get the best of them early in the game. They allowed Los Angeles to control the tempo and keep the Sharks pinned in their own zone.

Kings tough guy Kyle Clifford broke the ice with the game's 1st goal just 2:46 into the contest by tipping a Jake Muzzin shot from the left point. Muzzin threw it on net as Clifford crossed through the slot from right to left. Antti Niemi appeared to have the shot lined up, but the redirection tucked under the goaltender's blocker for the early 1-0 Kings lead.

The Sharks struggled to get the puck out of their own end, much less mount any offensive chances in the frame. San Jose was stuck on 6 shots in the period for a good 5 minutes before they kicked things into gear and made a late push.

Joe Thornton found himself with the puck in the slot and a shooting lane out in front of the Kings goal, but elected to turn his back on the net in search of a teammate to pass instead of shoot. Surrounded by white and grey jerseys, he would turn it over, killing what could have been a decent scoring chance.

San Jose finally got things moving forward late in the period. Brent Burns carried the puck up the right wing boards before unleashing a wrist shot that clipped Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick's stick and found twine. The goal was Burns' 16th of the season and just like that the game was tied.

The stadium erupted on Burns goal, but it would be the last thing they would be able to cheer about. It was unfortunate given the momentum that 70,000 voices can generate. The Sharks just failed to capitalize on that backing.

Robyn Regehr put the Sharks on their 1st power play of the evening when he hooked Thornton in the Kings zone at 7:24 of the 2nd period. San Jose would not score, but they put enough shots on Quick to eclipse the Kings in that category after trailing all of the 1st period.

The hitting intensified later in the period as both teams hoped to send a message. Melker Karlsson found himself upended along the Kings end boards after a hit by Clifford bounced him off the glass. Tommy Wingels repaid the favor moments later with his 10th hit of the game at that point. Wingels would finish the game with 11 hits.

Los Angeles jumped ahead 4:04 into the 3rd period when Gaborik ripped a shot from the left wing, evading Niemi. The shot was direct and stoppable, but somehow the Sharks netminder let it slip past him. Gaborik was the benefactor of a Marc-Edouard Vlasic pass that pin-balled off a skate as the Sharks were trying to gain the Kings zone. The puck bounced right to the Kings forward, setting up a partial break. Vlasic tried cutting Gaborik off, but he was an instant to late as the game winning shot was uncorked.

Dustin Brown setup a perfect opportunity for the Sharks to try and claw their way back into the game, but the ensuing power play turned out to be as fruitless as the two that preceded it in the game. San Jose would only generate a 70-foot shot from defenseman Matt Irwin that Quick brushed aside with ease.

The Sharks pulled Niemi with 1:20 to play, but Los Angeles simply intercepted and punted every puck that entered their zone.

The final horn sounded and fireworks vaulted into the air, celebrating the Sharks mediocrity. The business-like Kings came to town and took care of business, and San Jose just created more questions. It was a grand evening that left you with a hungry feeling.

Game Notes:

* Coaches from both teams wore high school style letterman's jackets on the bench.

* John Fogerty played an enthusiastic set at the 1st intermission. Fogerty played 5 or 6 songs, which included Proud Mary and Born on the Bayou. Melissa Etheridge played the 2nd intermission, belting out tunes that made the hair stand up on eh back of your neck.

* As a perfect indication of why the Sharks offense has struggled, defenseman Brent Burns led the team in shots on goal (6). Forwards Andrew Desjardins, Joe Thornton, John Scott and Tyler Kennedy had no zero shots among them.

* In a peculiar move, Sharks head coach Todd McLellan benched forward Chris Tierney in favor of John Scott. Tierney was a force on Thursday in Dallas. Scott was inserted into the lineup for more physicality, but that never seemed to be a factor in the game.

* One of the issues the Sharks faced was Los Angeles propensity to block shots. Having figured out that San Jose throws a high volume of pucks on net from the blueline, the Kings denied several attempts late in the game. Forward Anze Kopitar led the Kings with 5 blocked shots.

* The Sharks inability to convert on the three power play chances was magnified by the fact that the Kings have the league's 25th ranked penalty kill. Their penalty kill on the road rankes 27th in the league.



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Scoring
1 2 3 T
LA 1 0 1 2
SJ 1 0 0 1
1st period - 1, LA, Clifford 3 (Muzzin), 2:46. 2, SJ, Burns 16 (Wingels), 18:56
2nd period - None.
3rd period - 3, LA, Gaborik 17 (Carter), 4:04.
Penalties
1st period - Dillon, SJ (holding), 6:33.
2nd period - Regehr, LA (hooking), 7:24; Irwin, SJ (hooking), 13:06; Muzzin, LA (delay of game - puck over glass), 16:03.
3rd period - Brown, LA (tripping), 10:06.
Goaltending
Shots Saves
LA - Quick 32 31
SJ - Niemi 29 27
Shots On Goal
1 2 3 T
LA 12 6 11 29
SJ 10 15 7 32
Power Play Conversion
LA 0 of 2
SJ 0 of 3
3 Stars of the Game
Jonathan Quick
Brent Burns
Marion Gaborik
Attendance
70,205
Officials
Referees: O'Halloran, Dwyer. Linesmen: Barton, Brisebois.
Holiday Gifts at BustedTees

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