LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” would have been an apt question for Los Angeles Kings fans to ask before their team responded with a spirited 6-3 playoff win over the San Jose Sharks.
Teetering on the brink of a 4-0 sweep by the in-form Sharks, the Kings breathed new life into their best-of-seven playoff series with a passionate display in front of a sellout home crowd on Thursday and will return to San Jose for Game Five on Saturday trailing 1-3.
The infamous Shark Tank will not be an easy place for Los Angeles to stave off postseason elimination with a second successive win but Kings right wing Justin Williams knows how difficult it is for teams to close out series.
“Every game gets harder and harder, and they say the close-out game is always the hardest,” Williams told reporters after scoring twice in Thursday’s ‘do-or-die’ game at Staples Center in the Western Conference quarter-finals.
”We have a lot of character right here and we’re certainly not going to call it quits. We’re just trying to make this a series. We’re just going to do what we can to push back.
“They were up 3-0, obviously in the driver’s seat. They’re obviously a great team on home ice and they’ve shown it throughout the past decade it seems. Now we’re going to have to try to win a couple more.”
The Sharks have never won the coveted Stanley Cup but have proved to be perennial contenders in the postseason, having reached the playoffs for the last nine years.
“We’re certainly happy we got a win but we feel we have a long road to go obviously,” said Williams, who scored twice in a three-goal spree in the second period on Thursday as the Kings broke clear of a 2-2 tie with the Sharks.
“We’re going to take another step in San Jose and it’s going to be a tough one. You’re happy to play in the playoffs but you want to excel and we haven’t been able to do that so far in this series. We’re trying to push it game by game.”
The Kings, who claimed the franchise’s first Stanley Cup just under two years ago after a Cinderella run as the eighth seed, are aiming to become only the fourth team ever to overcome a 3-0 deficit and win a best-of-seven playoff series.
That rare feat was previously achieved by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1942, the New York Islanders in 1975 and Philadelphia Flyers in 2010.
“If you’re still playing hockey, you still have a chance,” said Kings center Mike Richards, who represented the Flyers when they successfully fought back from the brink against the Boston Bruins four years ago.
“You just can’t look at the mountain and expect to do it all at once. It’s a process to just put games together, put shifts together. You can’t win four unless you win one.”
As for the Sharks, they know they have to play much better defense in Game Five against the ace goaltender Jonathan Quick and the Kings, who were the league’s best defensive team during the regular season.
“If we give up five (goals), we’re not winning against a team that can defend the way they do and have the goaltending the way they do,” said San Jose head coach Todd McLellan.
”We can talk about the ones we missed (on Thursday) but I‘m a little more concerned about the ones we gave up. I didn’t like our net play, simple as that. We didn’t execute anywhere near the way they did.
“When I say net play, I don’t mean our goaltender. I‘m talking about the goaltender, the D-men, the forwards down low and the secondary chances we gave up. I‘m definitely not talking about one individual with pads on.”
San Jose goaltender Antti Niemi was pulled just 34 seconds into the third period after facing 26 shots and giving up five goals, but the Sharks can happily reflect on the fact that they outscored the Kings 13-5 on home ice in the first two games.
In Dionne Warwick’s mega-hit of 1968, “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?”, she sang the memorable line: “I‘m going back to find some peace of mind in San Jose”.
On Saturday, only one team will find that peace of mind in the Shark Tank.
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Gene Cherry