They dug themselves a bit too deep to recover.
It wasn’t the ideal start for the Kings in the fruition of their fifth postseason run in as many seasons Thursday evening, as they were wholly outplayed by the Sharks in almost every facet of the game through the first two periods at SAP Center in Northern California, finding themselves facing a five-goal deficit after 40 minutes of play.
You could say the Kings were ill prepared, you could also say the Sharks are an opponent worth seven games your time.
San Jose’s forecheck was relentless early, hounding the Kings in attempts to clear their own zone, nixing the Kings of any opportunities to develop rushes through the neutral zone, which held them as a non-threat in the Sharks’ zone through the first 40 minutes of play.
Jonathan Quick allowed five goals on 28 shots through the first two periods, and sat out the third period while backup goaltender Martin Jones got the nod in relief from head coach Darryl Sutter. It was just as much getting Quick out of the mess that had insinuated, as it was to give this roster some sort of spark.
Quick, who obviously didn’t put in one of his better performances Thursday night, is hardly to blame for the Kings’ early collapse.
The Sharks’ early offensive onslaught can be pinned on the Kings’ defense, which San Jose fully exploited, just as much as it can be Quick.
The Kings’ defense didn’t help early on, but it’s what ultimately got them on the scoreboard Thursday.
Playing for pride, and solely for positives to carry them into Game 2 Sunday, the Kings’ blue-line corps found the red-light early in the third period to provide some hope.
After the Sharks failed to clear their zone on a botched long-range pass attempt, Anze Kopitar hounded on the puck, feeding it to defenseman Jake Muzzin, who in one motion, snapped home the Kings’ first goal of the night past Antti Niemi, cutting the score to 5-1 with 17:59 to play.
It was Muzzin’s first career postseason goal.
Less than five minutes later, defenseman Slava Voynov cut the Kings’ deficit to three, intercepting Antti Niemi’s clearing attempt atop the blue-line, shaking around a pair of San Jose defenders, and whistling home a shot through traffic for the Kings second tally of the evening.
For Voynov, it was his sixth point (2G, 4A) in his last five games.
With 6:01 to play in the third period, the Kings cut the contest as close as they would all night, as Jeff Carter’s wrist shot deflected off the pads of Trevor Lewis and past Antti Niemi, making the score 5-3 in the Sharks’ favor.
Brent Burns netted an empty-net goal for San Jose with :54:6 seconds left on the clock to give San Jose a 6-3 lead, the night’s final score.
For the Kings, tonight rapidly turned into a performance that kneeled on their final impression, their effort and attitude entering a third period where they faced a five-goal deficit.
And an impression they left, outshooting the Sharks 16-5 in the final 20 minutes, turning what looked to be a blowout in the most embarrassing of ways, into an ending in the most respectable of ways.
The Kings now return to Los Angeles, where they’ll meet for a light skate Friday afternoon, and a full practice Saturday at Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, prior to their return to San Jose for Game 2 at SAP Center Sunday evening.