Down the street from the Staples Centre, just before the opening face-off of the Los Angeles Kings-San Jose Sharks playoff game Thursday night, they crowned the season 12 winner of the popular reality television show, American Idol.
Back inside the Staples Centre, it was a different form of reality entertainment – NHL playoff hockey – with a different and unlikely American idol emerging triumphant from that stage as well.
It was Trevor Lewis, of Salt Lake City, Utah, mostly a checking winger on the Kings’ third line. Lewis capped a fabulous playoff comeback for the Kings when they scored power-play goals 22 seconds apart in the second-last minute of play to turn impending defeat into an unlikely victory.
San Jose was nursing a one-goal lead when the Sharks’ Brad Stuart was called for tripping at the 17:19 mark.
Seconds later, defenceman Marc-Eduard Vlasic received a delay of game penalty for clearing the puck out of play, a controversial call, where it looked as if his attempt to get the puck off the glass appeared to deflect off Kings’ forward Jeff Carter before it went into the crowd.
Playing with the two-man advantage, the Kings got the tying goal from Dustin Brown – an American from Ithaca, N.Y. – and then on the second half of the power play, Lewis converted the rebound of a Tyler Toffoli shot for the game winner. It was a stunning turn of events and left the Sharks shaken, angry and promising that the series is far from over.
“If you go back and look at it (on the replay), it looked like it changed direction,” said Sharks’ coach Todd McLellan. “But one thing I’ve learned certainly from these playoffs is, it’s not going to do me any good to get up here and whine and moan and bitch about the refereeing because it’s not going to get us anywhere.”
The victory by the Kings gave them a 2-0 series lead, with the series switching to San Jose for Game 3 Saturday night. The Sharks were 17-2-5 in the regular season at the HP Pavilion and also won both their playoff games against the Vancouver Canucks on home-ice as well.
“We played well,” said Vlasic, who visibly upset after the game about the final sequence. “We played 60 minutes. It doesn’t matter what I say about the last play. It happened and it’s over with.”
Vlasic wouldn’t comment on the play specifically, but centre Logan Couture was not as circumspect.
“Pickles (Vlasic’s) clearing attempt hits Carter on the shoulder and goes out of play and they call it a penalty,” said Couture. “That’s tough.”
Tough, but not something they can dwell on.
“I liked our game,” continued McLellan. “We’ll meet tomorrow at the rink and I’ll tell our team that. The thing I like about our team is, maybe in the past, this would have bothered our team a little more, but the guys we have, I think we can recover from this. I think we can get out and play hard again.
“Guys played their hearts out, but as I said after Game 1, that doesn’t get you wins in the playoffs. Scoring more than the other team does – and we’re going to have to do that.”
For the longest time – well, for the first 89 minutes and 47 seconds of the series anyway – it looked as if the Sharks would be unable to solve the riddle of Kings’ goaltender Jonathan Quick, who was following up last year’s Conn Smythe trophy award win with another strong playoff. Quick recorded a shutout in the opener, won 2-0 by the Kings, and his team was hanging onto a 2-0 lead in the second period when the Sharks finally got on the board.
It started with Patrick Marleau’s goal at the 9:47 mark of the second period, a goal that created a huge collective exhalation at the Sharks’ bench. McLellan had loaded up all his top players on one unit and it paid off with a neatly executed four-way passing play, Dan Boyle to Logan Couture, Couture to Joe Thornton, Thornton to Marleau for a tap-in from in front of the goal.
As a goaltender, Quick tends to challenge aggressively, which generally serves him well, but on this particular play, he was at the top of his crease, anticipating a shot, when Thornton made one of his patented soft passes into the middle to get the Sharks on the board.
As if inspired, Scott Gomez then fed a nice pass to Brad Stuart 4:27 later and Stuart’s shot through traffic eluded Quick, tying the game at 2-2 after 40 minutes.
It was the 100th playoff point of Gomez’s career and he was playing at centre on the Sharks’ third line after the NHL issued a suspension to the Sharks’ Raffi Torres that obliged McLellan to shuffle his lines. McLellan moved Pavelski from centre on the third line to wing on the second line with Couture and Marleau, a line that played together a lot during the regular season.
Gomez, who signed with the Sharks after the Montreal Canadiens issued him a compliance buyout back in January, had a strong game for the Sharks, given his increased responsibility.
Tim Kennedy came out of the press box to take Torres’ place. Torres was banned for the series by NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan for a hit to the head of the Kings’ Jarret Stoll in the opener.
The Kings also lost centre Anze Kopitar early in the third period when he took a shot from a teammate in the face and left the ice bleeding, forcing coach Darryl Sutter into further line shuffling. Kopitar eventually returned later in the period and received a standing ovation from the crowd.
“We realized it wasn’t our best effort, but sometimes good teams win when they don’t deserve it too,” said Kopitar.
"And again, we pulled it off. We pulled it out of our behinds this time and next time we want to make sure we’re not in a position like this.”
Brad Richardson took Stoll’s place in the line-up and he earned an assist on the Kings’ second goal – on the power play, by Drew Doughty early in the second period.
Jeff Carter had given the Kings a 1-0 first-period lead when he picked up a loose puck in his own end and lugged it all the way to the face-off circle, when his heavy wrist shot fooled Sharks’ goaltender Antti Niemi. It was also Carter who mashed Vlasic, face-first into the boards, near the end of the second period, which cost him two minutes for charging.
Vlasic, who was drafted by the Sharks with a second-round pick acquired from the Calgary Flames in exchange for goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff, had given the Sharks a 3-2 third-period lead when he knocked in a loose puck from the edge of the goal crease. For the longest time, it looked as if that might be the winning goal.
“It’s done, it’s done,” said Vlasic. “It’s unfortunate. We move on to the next game. We’ll respond. I thought we responded well tonight. We played 60 minutes. We should have won that game. We got pucks to the net. It’s just tough – but our group will be ready.”
McLellan said the best part of the game from the San Jose perspective was that they got three past Quick, something the Blues did just once in their six-game opening-round series.
“In all of the games after that, it's been goose eggs, or one, or two,” said McLellan. “When you get three, you better beat this team.".
As for Lewis, the Kings’ scoring hero, he acknowledged: “We know we didn’t play our best so we got some work to do and clean things up. It’s a big comeback for our team and it’s a huge win for us.”