The Kings wanted a better start. They got it.
They wanted to dictate the play to the San Jose Sharks. They did it.
They wanted an early lead. Well, two out of three wasn’t bad.
Plus, the Kings did score first during their 3-0 victory over the Sharks in Game 5 of their second-round playoff series Thursday night at Staples Center. It just happened late in the second period rather than early in the first.
Anze Kopitar’s goal gave the Kings a 1-0 lead going into the third period. Slava Voynov made it 2-0 with a goal 53 seconds into the final period, and Jeff Carter added an empty-net goal in the game’s final minute as the Kings took a 3-2 lead in the series.
Jonathan Quick made 24 saves for his third shutout of the playoffs. The victory was the 27th of his career in the postseason, lifting him past Kelly Hrudey for the top spot in Kings franchise history.
Kopitar’s goal was his second in 11 playoff games after he finished the regular season without one in 16 consecutive contests. He was as dry as the Mojave Desert going into Game 5, hardly creating scoring chances during the series with the Sharks.
In fact, he had only one assist in the first four games.
Kopitar’s struggles mirrored the Kings’ difficulty in putting pucks into the back of Antti Niemi’s net. They scored only two goals in nearly eight periods before Kopitar smacked a rebound of a Kyle Clifford shot from the perimeter into the net at 18 minutes, 8 seconds of the second period.
Overall, the Kings had only 20 goals in 10 playoff games before Thursday’s must-win Game 5, the fewest of any team remaining in the postseason. They were coming off matching 2-1 losses to the Sharks in Games 3 and 4 in San Jose and were tied 2-2 in the best-of-7 series.
The winner of the Kings-Sharks series will face either the Chicago Blackhawks or Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference finals. The seventh-seeded Red Wings hold a 3-1 lead over the top-seeded Blackhawks in the series.
The Kings and Sharks return to San Jose for Game 6 on Sunday.
Game 7, if necessary, would be Tuesday at Staples Center.
Thursday, the Kings hardly resembled the same overmatched team that was run over during the first period of Tuesday’s 2-1 loss to the Sharks. The Kings were stuck in their own end of the ice for long stretches of Game 4, but there was no repeat for Game 5.
The only trouble for the Kings was they couldn’t score in the opening minutes. They hit everything in sight, but not the back of the net in what was otherwise a very impressive opening period. The Kings outhit the Sharks 24-12 in the first period and outshot them 9-6.
What’s more, the Kings held the Sharks without a shot for the second half of the first period. Their best scoring chances were off the mark, with Kopitar missing badly from the slot after a turnover and Niemi stopping Justin Williams from close range.
Kings coach Darryl Sutter shuffled his lines between Games 4 and 5 in an attempt to produce more offense. Kopitar played with Williams and Clifford, with typical linemate Dustin Brown dropped onto a checking line with Trevor Lewis and Dwight King.
The moves paid off with two goals.
Lewis set up Voynov’s goal with a faceoff win over the Sharks’ Joe Thornton in the right circle, nudging the puck back to the Kings’ defenseman near the right point. Voynov’s shot sailed through a tangle of bodies in front of Niemi and settled into the back of the net at 53 seconds.
It was only the second time during the playoffs that Thornton had been on the ice for an opponent’s goal in nine games. Thornton was on the ice for 17 goals for the Sharks during the postseason, including their first score in Game 4.
Thornton wasn’t as dominant in Game 5. He was still a forceful presence around the net, and the Kings worked a good deal better to neutralize him Thursday. He ran amok in the games in San Jose, especially during the first period in Game 4.