The series started just how the Sharks wanted, a solid defensive possession, leading to a quick transtion, Ryan Clowe throws a puck on net, Jonathan Quick fumbles with the rebound and Heater (Dany Heatley) buries the rebound…
Up 1-0 just 28 seconds into Game 1 of their Western Conference Quarterfinal Series against the Los Angeles Kings, the Sharks appeared to be the juggernaut that everyone has touted for years as their Stanley Cup pick. They continued this momentum for the majority of the opening twenty minutes, outshooting the Kings 14-3; however with a few moments left in the period, we caught a brief glimpse of the Sharks that have failed to reach the lofty expectations they have put on themselves in the past few years.
Ian White played the puck behind the net with his head and chest facing the boards and had his head driven into the boards by Jarrett Stoll, a player with no previous reputation for dirty hits. Stoll drove White’s head into the boards, then proceeded to hold him there and stare him down in the face as he watched White’s reaction to the hit. White’s legs buckled and the only thing keeping him up was Stoll’s pressure against the boards. A few long moments later, he crumpled to the ice, hardly able to get back on his own skates again. The officials blew the play dead, White had to be helped to his feet and could not leave the ice under his own power. He never returned. Following the hit, on the ensuing faceoff, Ben Eager fought Kyle Clifford, but nobody answered with a bruising hit or fight with Jarrett Stoll.
The Kings proceeded to dominate the second period as the Sharks wind was taken out of their sails from this hit. The second period reminded me of the Sharks of old, the Sharks from ’06 when Milan Michalek was elbowed in the head by Raffi Torres, ending Michalek’s season, and dashing the Sharks Cup Dreams as they simply could not find the heart or will to overcome that injury…. Or in ’08 when Michalek was bundled by Brendan Morrow in the waning seconds of the 3rd period in a game that lead to a 4 Overtime battle in which the Sharks were eliminated from the playoffs.
After seeing the Sharks fail to answer after Stoll eliminated White for the game (and potentially the playoffs), I was not looking forward to the third period, especially when the second had clearly been tilted in favor of the Kings.
The first ten minutes of the third period went much the same way as the second, the Kings had possession the majority of the time, but in this period the Sharks did a better job of taking away the middle of the ice in their zone, forcing the Kings to work the puck around the point and in the corners, but not allowing any great chances. Then with ten minutes to go, the Sharks turned it on. They started playing the hockey they’d played in the first period and drew a penalty with 2:11 to go.
Unfortunately they couldn’t bury it during the subsequent power play and the game went to overtime.
The Sharks then came out and played great defensive hockey in overtime. They were patient, careful with the puck and didn’t allow the Kings any dynamite scoring chances.
Then with just a little more than 5 minutes remaining in the first overtime session, a quick breakout left the Sharks with a 2 on 2 rush. Clowe got the puck ahead to Wellwood who waited and found a streaking Joe Pavelski coming late into the play. As he’s done many times before, Pavelski caught the pass and ripped a shot in the upper right-hand corner of the net, giving the Sharks a 3-2 victory and a 1-0 lead in the series.
Although the Sharks started and finished the game just how they’d like to, if they’re going to win this series handily and be rested for the second round, they’ll need a full 60 minute effort next time and they’ll have to make Jarrett Stoll pay for what he did to Ian White.