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The Kings and Sharks played a predictably thrilling opener, but Joe Pavelski’s goal just 17 seconds into the third period gave the Sharks a crucial 4–3 win on the road and a 1–0 series lead (box score | recap | highlights). The rivals return to Staples Center for Game 2 on Saturday night. Here are three thoughts on an entertaining first game in Los Angeles:
Joe Pavelski shines again
While grizzled veteran Joe Thornton has received most of the public plaudits for putting together a fringe MVP season at age 37, it was Joe Pavelski who was the most impressive player on the ice in the opening game. The longtime Sharks center demonstrated why he remains such an integral part of the franchise. He hasn’t missed a game in three seasons, he’s scored at least 37 goals in all three, and he remains one of hockey’s finest two-way centers.
Pavelski slotted a bouncing pass on a power play to tie the game at one in the first period. He gave the Sharks a 4–3 lead with a nifty wraparound just 17 seconds into the third. Of San Jose's longtime stars (Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Brent Burns, Logan Couture), Pavelski has provided a stability replicated by few players in the NHL. As one who has long thrived against the Kings, he could be the x-factor if the Sharks wish to exorcise the playoff demons that have haunted them for the better part of a decade.
Jonathan Quick wasn’t at his finest
It was hard to fault Quick for a couple of San Jose's goals. The first was the end result of a perfectly executed power play and a disciplined finish from Pavelski. The second from Burns was the byproduct of a meticulously constructed screen off of a face-off. The rest, well, let’s just say Quick wasn’t at his finest. His aggressiveness in and out of the crease is noted among most hockey fans, but it can often lead to some wide open nets to be exploited by structured and aggressive offenses.
With Thornton orchestrating the top line and Couture routinely crashing toward the net, the Sharks have shown throughout the season that they know what it takes to disorient one of hockey’s most feared big-game netminders. A questionable disallowed goal coupled with a stupendous save by Drew Doughty kept Quick from allowing even more during the evening. His struggles against the Sharks this season were noted in Al Muir’s preview of the series, and Quick didn’t look like his best self on Thursday evening.
Playoff hockey may be akin to shooting adrenaline into your eyes before a luge race, but these two rivals provided one of the finer opening games of the NHL playoffs thus far. Remember that the Sharks collapsed after a 3–0 series lead in 2014 and the Kings later hoisted the Stanley Cup. The two teams played like they were looking to resume that series.
The first two periods featured a host of chances and counter-attacks and until the Sharks took the 4–3 lead on Pavelski’s goal, neither team held a lead for more than 3:22.
It may be a platitude, but this might be the best series of the first round simply due to how familiar these two squads are with one another.