The Sharks started a new goalie Monday night. It paid off for 2 1/2 periods of hockey.
And after that, Alex Stalock learned what it feels like to be a sluice gate in a Los Angeles flood.
So did the Sharks.
And they had better figure out how to swim better by Wednesday night, or else it’s going to be a very, very, very long offseason.
The Los Angeles Kings scored three goals in the game’s final 10 minutes Monday to dump a 4-1 loss on the Sharks in Game 6 of their playoff series. It also wiped out any trace of the seemingly comfortable edge the Sharks had a week ago after winning the first three games in the best-of-seven.
Welcome to a best-of-one, Wednesday night at SAP Center.
And it would be helpful if some of the Sharks’ top scorers from the regular season managed to put some pucks on the net in that one. Stalock, who replaced Antti Niemi in the net Monday, wasn’t the sole reason the Sharks lost. Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton have been way too quiet in the last two games.
“We need a Game 7 performance from everybody,” said Sharks coach Todd McLellan, throwing down the gauntlet to his team, which has been outscored 7-1 in its last two games. “Our big guys are going to have to find a way to get on the board at some point. We have done it before and can do it again.”
The fact is, Stalock played a decent game until L.A.’s Justin Williams broke a 1-1 tie with a controversial goal that had McLellan saying his team got “cheated” because the puck should have been whistled dead as it sat underneath Stalock’s legs.
Darryl Sutter, the Kings’ coach, naturally had a different view.
“The only thing I could see from the bench was the referee going like this and not blowing his whistle,” Sutter said, mimicking the arm-downward move that signifies a good goal.
The replay, frankly, was inconclusive. But it didn’t matter. The goal counted. What happened next was the bigger problem, pegged accurately by Logan Couture.
“It’s up to the team, the leaders and coaching staff to regroup after a goal like that, which we didn’t,” said Couture.
After the disputed goal, the Sharks were still just one goal behind. But they sagged and allowed the Kings to freewheel their way to the other two goals that put the game out of reach. Then followed some shoving and fists and scuffles involving such unlikely suspects as Thornton and Couture.
“Emotion,” said McLellan.
“A waste of time and energy, to be quite honest,” said Sutter.
Whatever you call it, if that’s the snapshot the Sharks want to carry into a Game 7, the picture isn’t a pretty one. A week ago, such a scenario seemed unlikely after the Sharks had taken their commanding lead in the series. But as the games have progressed, one team has found more hop in its step and more offense on its sticks. That team isn’t the one wearing teal.
By the sixth game of any hockey series, the players’ legs are feeling every stride and their shoulders are bruised from all the checking of the previous five games. The performances can be as much about will as skill.
The Sharks did a better job on their forecheck Monday, did some good things. But they still need more from the likes of Pavelski, who has just one shot on goal in the last two games — or Marleau, who hasn’t scored since his overtime winner in Game 3.
To say the series turned around abruptly and decisively after that third game is woefully accurate. In Game 1 through Game 3, the Sharks outscored the Kings 17-8. In Game 4 through Game 6, the Kings outscored the Sharks 13-4.
“There’s really no difference if you’re up three or down three, it’s still about closing it out,” Sutter said. “Somebody is going to win Game 7. Somebody is going to lose.”
Once you get to a Game 7, anything can happen between two evenly matched teams. Only three times in NHL history has a team taken a 3-0 lead in a series and then blown it by losing in seven games. The Sharks don’t want to be a fourth.
The last thing you want is that seventh game, series hanging in the balance, with a puck bouncing wildly and a skate or a kneepad sending it into the net for a series-winning goal.
–Mark Purdy, San Jose Mercury News
What did Todd McLellan think about the Sharks’ Game 6 loss?
“We got cheated,” the Sharks coach said, after his team’s 4-1 loss at the Staples Center. “Simple as that.”
The Sharks may not look like a very cohesive team at this point, after losing three straight games to the Los Angeles Kings, to force a Game 7 on Wednesday.
But they were unified on this point: the winning goal in the third period, that Justin Williams poked under Sharks goalie Alex Stalock, should not have been allowed.
“That goal should have been disallowed,” Sharks captain Joe Thornton said. “It looked like Al had it covered, that he was pushed into the net.”
It was a disappointing ending to what had been a good night for Stalock, making his first playoff start in goal. In an attempt to change his team’s fortunes, McLellan sat Antti Niemi, who has 61 NHL playoff games under his belt, in favor of Stalock.
The 26-year old Minnesotan, who the Sharks drafted in 2005, rewarded McLellan’s decision, for the most part. Stalock gave up a goal a little more than five minutes into the first period, as Drew Doughty brought the puck all the way down the ice and passed to Justin Williams, who tucked the puck in past the goalie. But then Stalock settled in and made some big saves.
“Al played great,” Thornton said. “He stood tall.”
And then came the turning point with about eight minutes to play in the game. Williams pushed the puck under Stalock’s pads. The official at the back of the net had a whistle in his mouth but didn’t use it. After a torturous second, the puck appeared at the back of the net and the Kings celebrated. The play was reviewed and the goal stood.
“That was the turning point,” Thornton said. “Up to that point it was anybody’s ballgame. It was tight. And then it went south on us.”
That describes this whole series. It’s gone south on the Sharks, and now the momentum is all with the team from Southern California. Before the series, many predicted it would go seven games, but those prognostications looked foolish just a week ago, after the Sharks jumped out to a 3-0 lead,
Now their once-dominant lead has dwindled down to this: a one game playoff Wednesday night in San Jose.
Total desperation time.
“That’s why we played all year for home ice,” Logan Couture said.
Couture was hard on his team.
“They get that goal that I don’t think should have counted, and we kind of came unraveled, which we shouldn’t have,” Couture said. “They scored the third and fourth, bang-bang. You have to regroup after a goal like that.”
But they didn’t regroup. If you’ve seen this before from the Sharks of playoffs past, raise your hand. They are looking like the underachievers they’ve been in so many other Stanley Cup playoffs. The loose, aggressive group from the first three games has vanished and these guys in teal look more like Sharks teams of the past, the ones that tripped over their own skates.
The Kings star players are making huge plays: Anze Kopitar scored both of the bang-bang goals, Doughty had two assists and Williams is channeling Robert Shaw in “Jaws.” He’s become a Shark killer with nine goals in 19 games against San Jose. Goalie Jonathan Quickis as good as ever, showing why Darryl Sutter left him in those lopsided Kings losses in Games 1 and 2.
McLellan isn’t getting the same production out of his top players. The Sharks snapped a 100-plus minute scoreless streak in the second period, with a deflected goal from James Sheppard. Thornton, Couture, Patrick Marleau, and Joe Pavelski have been held scoreless for two games.
“Our big guys are going to have to find a way to get on the board at some point,” McLellan said.
Typically, it’s usually the goalies who get blamed when things go wrong. It was an annual rite of spring for Evgeni Nabokov, who was the target when the Sharks would flame out in the playoffs.
Stalock felt he was the victim of a bad call.
“It was an innocent shot from the side,” he said. “I don’t think the puck goes in if I didn’t get pushed in. The puck was still.”
The Sharks have a lot more problems than just Niemi or Stalock. The frozen bellyflop the team committed Saturday on home ice revealed more than simply poor goaltending. McLellan ticked off the list of problems: lack of speed, poor execution, lousy puck support.
The Sharks played better Monday night, but still unraveled at the worst possible moment. And they didn’t get the production they need from their stars.
History is still on the Sharks’ side. In the long tale of the Stanley Cup playoffs, only three teams that jumped out with a 3-0 series lead went on to lose the next four: the 1942 Red Wings, the 1975 Penguins and the 2010 Bruins.
The Sharks were recently in the same position, in 2011 against Detroit. They won Game 7 but went on to lose the Western Conference Finals to the Vancouver Canucks in five games.
That’s the problem with hockey playoffs: they are a war of attrition. Every shift, every period, every extra game exacts a toll.
–Ann Killion, San Francisco Chronicle
Piece by piece, interview by interview, word by word, the full weight of NBA moral and financial diligence is crushing down on Donald Sterling right now, and we shall see if he is able to comprehend it.
Every loaded gesture is all about sending one essential signal: Sterling must agree to sell the Clippers as soon as possible or else he will become even more of a pariah and the Clippers will become a shunned and barren franchise.
Is that enough for Sterling to come to terms with his true, wretched status after the release of that infamous and abhorrently racist recording?
The NBA and its other 29 owners are hoping that Sterling will be smart enough to realize that this is the only endgame now.
So the news: The NBA says commissioner Adam Silver will make an announcement on the Sterling issue at a news conference on Tuesday in New York — a few hours before Game 5 between the Warriors and Clippers at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Silver will almost certainly suspend Sterling indefinitely in the “best interests of the game,” and there will be other strong sanctions — probably a $1 million maximum fine, and the commissioner will not mince his words about the possibility of a lifetime ban because of Sterling’s words, presuming the NBA believes Sterling said them.
Here’s one person who is pretty sure that it is indeed Sterling spewing repugnant racist thoughts on that tape: His coach and most powerful employee, Doc Rivers.
“Yeah, I believe he said those things,” Rivers said on a conference call Monday, after canceling his team’s practice to give his players room to breathe amid this international controversy.
“Yes, is the answer … I haven’t given him his due process, I haven’t given him the opportunity to explain himself, and quite honestly right now I don’t want him to — to me. I’ll wait for that further judgment.”
This is all happening as many of the NBA’s most important figures lined up to say that Sterling can’t be allowed to remain in power, as several major sponsors announced they would pause or discontinue their relationships with the Clippers, and as all NBA observers wondered about the atmosphere for Game 5 at Staples.
Warriors coach Mark Jackson suggested that fans should simply refuse to attend the game to protest Sterling’s purported words, and there must be worries that the possible protests could take on a far more ominous tone than that.
But a swift and decisive action on Tuesday might forestall some of the need for any extra reaction, and that is the NBA’s responsibility right now.
The Sterling Scandal already has rocked and potentially irrevocably altered this playoff series.
The NBA power brokers can’t leave this up to the Clippers coaches and players, who issued silent protests on Sunday by turning their warm-up shirts inside out and wearing black arm bands and socks … then turned in their worst, most listless performance of the playoffs in a Game 4 loss to the Warriors.
The players are still employees of Sterling, they’re in the middle of an incredibly important point in all of their careers, and they aren’t the ones who need to settle this.
It’s on the NBA — the commissioner, the 29 other owners, the consensus wisdom and hard practical logic of this entire league.
Can they force Sterling out immediately? Probably not, because Sterling is a 1/30th partner in this operation, not an employee, and other owners are leery of all-out punishment within the brethren.
However, the owners know they can’t leave this open-ended, not with a series to play and with a league to get back in order. They can’t leave anyone in doubt about this kind of racist garbage, especially Sterling himself.
There is precedence in the sports world: The Cincinnati Reds’ Marge Schott and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Ted Stepien received extremely harsh penalties for things they did or said.
This isn’t a First Amendment issue, by the way. The NBA is a league, not a government, and Sterling operates the Clippers within the overall rules and agreements of that partnership.
My sense is that there has been movement the last few days to push Sterling out over moral and financial concerns, and that if he rejects the push, the pressure will only expand geometrically.
Simply put, it’s bad business to include a partner whose views are despicable to most of the NBA’s very important employees, rich clients and millions of fans.
Frankly, Sterling has been an embarrassment for decades, the NBA has tried to downplay and avoid it, but now that audio tape has thrown Sterling right to the front and center, where nobody can avoid it any longer.
After this, who would want to join the Clippers? Who would want to stay there?
–Tim Kawakami, San Jose Mercury News