By JOSH DUBOW
SAN JOSE, Calif. — Buoyed by a loud crowd and another early power-play goal, the San Jose Sharks matched Los Angeles’ three home wins with a third straight victory over the Kings at the Shark Tank.
Now this all-California series comes down to a winner-take-all game on Los Angeles’ home ice.
Joe Thornton got San Jose off to a fast start with a power-play goal in the first period and TJ Galiardi added a goal in the second to help the Sharks force a decisive seventh game with a 2-1 victory over the defending Stanley Cup champions Sunday night.
“We wanted this opportunity,” said Joe Pavelski, who set up Thornton’s goal. “We wanted to go play. We feel like we’ve played some good games there before. It’s been a while since we’ve won, so we’re due.”
Antti Niemi made 24 saves as the Sharks earned their third 2-1 home win of the series.
Game 7 is Tuesday night in Los Angeles. While the Kings seemingly have the advantage of home ice that has been so paramount this series, road teams in NHL history are 8-8 in seventh games of series where the home team has won the first six games, according to STATS LLC.
“It’s followed the script. Home team wins back and forth,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. “It’s time for us to get there and try to change the story. We’re going to have to play a much better game than we did last time in that building. But they earned the right for home-ice. It’s our job to take it away from them.”
Dustin Brown scored the lone goal for Los Angeles and Jonathan Quick made 24 saves. The Kings have lost 11 of 12 road games but have been unbeatable at home, winning all six playoff games and 13 straight at Staples Center since the end of the regular season.
“It’s come down to one game,” forward Mike Richards said. “We’re a confident, comfortable team at home. The fans are loud and behind us. It should be an exciting game.”
The Kings tried to end it in San Jose, putting pressure on Niemi early in the final period in search of the equalizer. But they couldn’t break through against a strong forecheck late to the delight of the loud crowd chanting “Beat LA! Beat LA!” from the start of the night.
Los Angeles managed just one shot on goal in the final 2:50.
“We showed more push than in the past when we kind of sat on the lead a little bit more. I liked it,” defenseman Dan Boyle said. “We talked about it. We always talked about it. We had a little push there and had a few looks in the third.”
After taking a 1-0 lead early, the Sharks went more than 15 minutes without a shot before regaining their stride early in the second period. Galiardi beat Quick with a wrist shot from the faceoff circle for his first career playoff goal to make it 2-0 and San Jose had a chance to break the game open when Justin Williams was sent to the box for a double-minor high-sticking penalty.
But Quick and the Kings killed off all 4 minutes of power-play time and then got back into the game with just over 6 minutes left in the second when Brown banked a shot from behind the goal line off Niemi and into the net.
“Every game has been close,” Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi said. “I’m sure it’s not a shock it’s come to a Game 7. I’m sure both teams didn’t want it to go this far. Right now, it doesn’t matter how we win it, just that we win it.”
The Sharks started fast thanks to three early power plays and the desperation of an elimination game to continue the trend in this series of the home team scoring first when they converted on a two-man advantage. With Richards already in the box for tripping Brent Burns, Anze Kopitar shot a puck over the glass for a delay-of-game penalty.
San Jose patiently worked the puck around during the 5-on-3 advantage and took the lead when Joe Pavelski slid a pass across the goalmouth to Thornton, who shot it in from the side of the net to end a drought of 102:14 dating to the second period in Game 4.
“The 5-on-3 in the first few minutes was big. We’re just trying to slap down the ice but things like that happen,” Scuderi said. “We were trying to limit their start in this building but that got the fans into it early and that hurt us.”
The Sharks were lucky that lead held up for the period as they were scrambling after that in part because of an injury that knocked defenseman Justin Braun out for the final 16 minutes of the period.
Los Angeles took the last eight shots of the period, with Niemi making two tough saves to rob Trevor Lewis on the power play and also stopping Kyle Clifford on a rebound in close. The Kings also were unlucky, hitting three posts in the period.