LOS ANGELES -- The Kings of Los Angeles, a proud group just two years removed from a Stanley Cup run, did what you would expect them to do here Thursday night.
They skated like crazy. They hit hard. They refused to go down easy. And they beat the Sharks by a score of 6-3 to extend the teams' playoff series to a fifth game.
So, Sharks: No sweep for you.
(Sorry. It was an irresistible line, considering that "Seinfeld" writer Larry David was in the crowd at Staples Center.)
The concern would be that, even though the Kings were dogged in their attack, the Sharks helped them along a little too much. That cannot continue at SAP Center on Saturday night.
"They played well," said the Sharks' Logan Couture, speaking of the Kings. "We knew they were going to be desperate, and they were. We didn't forecheck in the first two periods, the way we'd like. We've got to tighten that up in San Jose. But we're still up, 3 games to 1."
It wasn't that far from being 4-0, however. Los Angeles goalie Jonathan Quick was giving up juicy rebounds and still hasn't resembled the stopper he can be. But for Sharks goalie Antii Niemi, the trouble really began late in the second period, with the score tied at 2-2. Niemi was hanging in there, along with the rest of his team.
"I thought I felt fine, was seeing the puck well," Niemi said.
Then, in a flash, the Kings played pingpong and scored. Willie Mitchell was out front and slammed the puck hard off the end boards as Niemi came out a smidgen too far to anticipate the shot but lost track of the puck when it whizzed past him. As the rubber wedge ricocheted back toward the net, Justin Williams flicked his stick at it and tucked the thing into the net.
"When I found the puck, it was too late," Niemi said. "Weird bounces."
But sometimes, a goofy goal like that can bring a team to life. That's just what it did for the Kings, who scored again a few minutes later -- and then again less than a minute into the third period to take a 5-2 lead. Niemi was pulled off the ice and replaced by Alex Stalock.
Sharks coach Todd McLellan was harsh in his assessment of what had happened.
"I didn't like our net play," he said. "As simple as that."
McLellan then clarified his statement -- to say that he was talking about the way his defensemen allowed secondary scoring chances on rebounds off Niemi and his forwards did not provide proper support when necessary.
"I'm definitely not talking about one individual with pads on," McLellan said.
That should settle the issue of who starts the next game. Niemi has not been the best goalie of the NHL playoffs. He probably could/should have stopped one or two of Thursday's goals -- including Marian Gaborik's shot that Niemi saw all the way.
"Not too many times can you say that you cannot stop one," Niemi said, taking some blame.
But as McLellan said, the Thursday assault was not entirely his fault.
Among other things, the Sharks could have controlled the puck far more in their offensive end, as they did in the first three games of the series. And they allowed another power-play goal by the Kings after giving up two in Game 3.
But let's face facts. If someone had told the Sharks they would split their two games at Staples Center this week to take a 3-1 lead back to SAP Center, most would have taken that scenario in a heartbeat. These Kings are not the fragile Vancouver Canucks who were ready to be swept by the Sharks in the first round a year ago -- and were indeed ousted in four.
No, these Kings have more spine than that. But they clearly do not enjoy playing at the Shark Tank and realize winning Game 5 in San Jose will be tougher than winning Game 4 was at Staples.
The Sharks, meanwhile, don't need to win any more games here at Staples to clinch the series. But they would do well to close out things on Saturday. They don't need any more nutty bounces to make things more complicated. Neither does Niemi.