There was simply no margin for error as the final minutes and seconds ticked down in Game 7 on Tuesday night at Staples Center. Joe Pavelski had the puck on his stick and Jonathan Quick at his mercy at point-blank range.
Pavelski set himself and fired.
In a flash, Quick reached out with his glove and denied Pavelski the tying goal in the closing minutes of a nerve-jangling conclusion to an edgy, back-and-forth second-round series. Quick and the Kings would hang on by the tips of their fingers for a 2-1 victory over Pavelski and the Sharks.
It seemed to be a fitting conclusion a series that was decided by the smallest of margins. Quick, the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the MVP of the 2012 playoffs, made 25 saves to propel the Kings to their second consecutive Western Conference finals appearance.
Right wing Justin Williams scored twice for the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings in a span of less than three minutes in the second period. Defenseman Dan Boyle narrowed the Kings’ lead to 2-1 with a goal 5 minutes, 26 seconds into the third period.
There would be no tying goal for the Sharks, however.
“You’re thinking the worst and he comes up with the save and you’re, like, ‘Thank God that guy’s back there,’” Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi said of Quick. “He gives us such confidence and it’s something that radiates throughout the locker room.”
The Kings await the winner of tonight’s Game 7 between the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings in the conference finals later this week. The Kings will host Game 1 on Friday if the Red Wings win, but will be on the road Saturday for the first game if the Blackhawks win.
The fifth-seeded Kings went 1-2-0 during the regular season against the seventh-seeded Red Wings and also were 1-2-0 against the top-seeded Blackhawks. Both teams represent a dramatic shift in style from what the Kings faced from the Sharks and the St. Louis Blues in the opening round.
San Jose and St. Louis played a physical defensive-oriented game that was similar to the kind of game the Kings prefer. Detroit and Chicago play at a much higher tempo and are relentless attackers, with a number of the NHL’s top offensive standouts.
Williams gave the Kings a 1-0 lead with a power-play goal 4:11 into the second period, jabbing a loose puck into the back of Antti Niemi’s net from near the left goal post. Niemi was a nanosecond too slow in covering the post after Slava Voynov’s perimeter shot ricocheted off the end boards.
Williams was right on time.
Then, with Staples Center still crackling with energy, Anze Kopitar raced into the attacking zone and slipped a pass to Williams in the left faceoff circle. Williams’ one-timed shot hit the back of the net an eye-blink later to give the Kings a 2-0 lead at 7:08.
Again, Williams was in the right spot at the right moment.
Less than a minute later, Williams nearly completed a hat trick with another laser from the left circle. This time, Niemi stuck out his leg and prevented him from scoring the first Game 7 three-goal game by a King since Wayne Gretzky put three past the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1993.
Now, no one will ever confuse Williams with Gretzky, but Williams’ statistics in Game 7 are pretty great considering his limited participation in all-or-nothing games. Williams’ goals were his fourth and fifth and his eighth and ninth points in only four Game 7s during his NHL career.
“I certainly enjoy pressure situations,” Williams said. “I know everyone in this dressing room does. We pride ourselves on being a team that, push come to shove, we’re going to get it done. We’ve been through it before and we know we can do it.”
After several minutes of indecision, the Sharks regrouped and began to pressure the Kings. The rest of the second period was a flashback to last spring, when Quick was the Kings’ best player from start to finish of their Stanley Cup championship run.
Quick turned the Sharks away again and again in the closing minutes.
“We thought we could come in here and steal a game,” Sharks captain Joe Thornton said. “Jonathan Quick is just a fantastic goalie. It’s disappointing right now that it has to end because we were really enjoying this. It’s a tough way to finish.”