On Sunday, they survived a must-win scenario.
The San Jose Sharks aren’t buying the suggestion the next one is a can’t-win scenario.
Staples Center, here we come.
Thanks to a scrappy, spirited effort in Sunday’s 2-1 triumph at HP Pavilion, the Sharks have forced a winner-take-all seventh game in their second-round NHL playoff showdown with the Los Angeles Kings. The challenge now is somehow stealing a win Tuesday in L.A., where the Kings have won 13 straight gaaammmes — including a half-dozen post-season dates — in their bid to raise another Stanley Cup banner. The home team has won all six games in this series.
“We really don’t have anything to lose,” said Sharks head coach Todd McLellan. “We’re going to play Game 7 against the defending Stanley Cup champions in their building. We look forward to that challenge.”
No doubt feeding off the energy of 17,562 fans chanting ‘Beat L.A.,’ the Sharks got goals from ‘Jumbo’ Joe Thornton and T.J. Galiardi and a stellar goaltending performance from Antti Niemi in Sunday’s triumph.
Thornton cashed in on a five-on-three power play in the first period, making no mistake after a nifty feed from Joe Pavelski through the blue paint, while Galiardi zipped a shot over L.A. goalie Jonathan Quick’s shoulder about four minutes into the middle frame.
Kings captain Dustin Brown trimmed the lead in the late stages of the second period, but the Sharks saved their best defensive effort for the final 20 minutes, giving Niemi all the support he needed to ensure Galiardi’s top-shelf snipe stood up as the game-winner.
“Jumbo, he’s always chirps me and says I’ll score only when the boys need it the most,” Galiardi said. “I guess he was right.”
The Kings and Sharks were separated by just two points in the final standings and have a long history of one-goal games, so it’s no surprise this series is going seven.
After 60 minutes — or maybe more — Tuesday, one team will be facing the winner of a series between the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings, and the other will be booking tee-times or tropical getaways.
The Kings never faced a won-or-done scenario on their championship run last spring. In fact, L.A. hasn’t been in a Game 7 since 2002, when Zigmund Palffy was their star forward and Felix Potvin was their puck-stopper.
The Sharks’ last seven-game set was a Western Conference semifinal against the Detroit Red Wings in 2011. They survived that one, with Niemi earning the victory in the finale and Patrick Marleau scoring the decisive goal.
For what it’s worth, the Kings are 3-4 in Game 7 situations, while the Sharks have a 5-2 record in the same situation.
That’s ancient history, though.
Recent history — the past two weeks, that is — shows the Sharks can compete with the champs.
They proved it again Sunday, their third consecutive 2-1 win over the Kings on home ice.
“To me, it felt like a game that could be a turning point of a series type of game,” said Sharks winger Adam Burish, who returned to the lineup after missing five games with a broken hand.
“From start to finish, the game was hard, but we played the right way. We played exactly how we said we wanted to play. We came out with a great start. Every time they had some chances, we just settled down. When they scored that goal, we settled down.
“It felt like it might have been our best game of the series, so hopefully it’s something we can gain confidence from going into a big Game 7.”
On Twitter: @SUNGilbertson