By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Apr. 29) – Los Angeles Kings are poised to become only the fourth National Hockey League team to rebound from a 3-0 deficit in games and win a best-of-seven playoff series.
A controversial 4-1 victory by the Kings over San Jose Sharks at Staples Center – which ended just before 1 o’clock this morning EST – sets up a deciding seventh match in the Western Conference opening-round series. It will be played at the SAP Center in San Jose on Wednesday (CBC, NBC Sports Network) at 10 p.m. Eastern. If Los Angeles prevails, it will join the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs; 1975 New York Islanders and 2010 Philadelphia Flyers as teams that successfully rallied from a 3-0 series hole. Only the ’42 Leafs did it in the Stanley Cup final. In ’75, the Islanders came back against Pittsburgh in the Cup quarterfinals and the 2010 Flyers accomplished the feat against Boston in the Eastern Conference championship before losing the final round to Chicago.
“All of this is irrelevant until we finish our job,” Kings captain Dustin Brown told Scott Oake of Hockey Night in Canada after the game.
Last night’s match turned on a hotly disputed goal by Justin Williams of the Kings, who broke a 1-1 stalemate with 8:04 left in regulation time. L.A. defenseman Robyn Regehr took a shot from the left point that Sharks goalie Alex Stalock could not corral. Williams jammed the blade of his stick between Stalock’s legs and appeared to shove the puck and the netminder over the goal-line. Referee Chris Lee of Saint John, N.B. was properly positioned behind the net and he immediately pointed to the puck, signaling a goal. The Sharks vehemently contended that Lee should have a) blown the play dead when Stalock smothered the puck or b) disallowed the score based on a rule that precludes a goalie from being physically pushed across the red line with the puck.
On the CBC telecast, veteran color-man (and former Kings goalie) Kelly Hrudey – working alongside play caller Mark Lee – blatantly argued against the goal and slow-motion replays did show part of Stalock’s left pad crossing the line after Williams jammed at the puck. Anze Kopitar scored twice for L.A. in a 1:15 span moments later to seal the victory.
This is not unfamiliar territory for the Sharks, who coughed up a 3-0 series lead to Detroit in the 2011 Western Conference semifinal only to prevail, 3-2, on home ice in the deciding match. Sharks were then taken out in five by Vancouver in the Conference championship.
To avoid infamy and get past Round 1 this spring, San Jose will have to quickly forget the disputed goal and focus on playing as dominantly as it did early in the series. The Kings, meanwhile, can draw on experience from just two years ago when they won the first two games on the road in all four playoff rounds and romped to their lone Stanley Cup title with a 16-4 record. Included, were Game 7 overtime victories at Vancouver and Phoenix. The replay sequence below from the Hockey Night In Canada telecast details last night’s controversial, game-winning goal:
JUSTIN WILLIAMS OF L.A. POKES AT LOOSE PUCK (UPPER-LEFT) BETWEEN THE PADS OF ALEX STALOCK. HE PUSHES THE PUCK AND THE NETMINDER TOWARD THE GOAL (UPPER-RIGHT) AND STALOCK’S LEFT PAD APPEARS TO CROSS THE LINE WITH THE PUCK. REFEREE CHRIS LEE DOES NOT HESITATE (BELOW) TO SIGNAL A SCORE.
Meanwhile, the Avalanche and Wild will also go to a deciding match after Minnesota hammered Colorado, 5-2, in St. Paul last night to even that series 3-3. Game 7, in Denver, is Wednesday at 9:30 p.m. EST and can be seen in Canada on TSN.
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