Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
"Implosions are ugly," Matthew McConaughey warned Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street. He must have been referring to the San Jose Sharks.
Leading the Los Angeles Kings three games to none, the Sharks were minutes away from punching their ticket to round two. Instead, they went full Romo, dropping the final four games to become only the fourth team in league history to cough up a 3-0 series lead.
Game 7 was the hockey equivalent of Chief Brody shooting Jaws in the mouth. The Sharks' season crumbled while the Kings were able to swim to safety. And just like Brody, the Kings are probably asking themselves, how are we still breathing?
It's an interesting question but as usual, I think I have an answer. Here's how the cardiac Kings lived to see another day.
1. Anze Kopitar went back to being Anze Kopitar
Kopitar is and always has been the Kings' best player. Unfortunately it took him until Game 5 to realize it. After being held without a goal in the series' first four games, Kopitar exploded for four goals and two assists in Games 5-7. Not only was Kopitar more aggressive during this stretch (2.7 shots per game) but his plus/minus rating was off the charts (+5). He was also dominant on the faceoff, winning 59.3 percent of dropped pucks compared to only 46.5 percent in the previous four games. When Kopitar is at his best, so are the Kings.
2. Jonny Quick took care of business
Quick was in a serious funk when the series began, allowing 16 goals in the first three games. His goals against average ballooned to 5.78 while his save percentage dipped to .852 (92 saves on 108 shots). But the Sharks couldn't keep Quick down for long. The 28-year-old battened down the hatches in Games 4-7, surrendering just five goals on 135 shots (.963 save percentage). The clean slate Quick generated in Game 5 was the eighth shutout of his postseason career. Did I mention he's from Connecticut, America's greatest state? Well now I did.
3. The Kings weren't messing around on the penalty kill
One option for the Kings would have been to stop committing penalties. That's not their style though. Instead, the Kings decided to clean up their penalty kill. After killing 76.9 percent of power plays in the first three games, Los Angeles finished the series by stopping the Sharks 18 of 19 times on the man advantage (94.7 percent). Now that's more like it.
4. They got the job done at home (as usual)
Want to beat the Kings at home? You better bring your A-game. The Sharks left theirs in Silicon Valley as the Kings outscored them 13-8 in three games at Staples Center. The Sharks held a 14-13 scoring edge over the Kings back in San Jose. Dating back to 2012, the year Los Angeles won its first and only Stanley Cup, the Kings are 16-5 at home in the postseason, outscoring their opponents 58-33 over that span.
5. Jarret Stoll and Dustin Brown showed no mercy
In the most physical series of the first round, two Kings forwards, Jarret Stoll (as if life wasn't good enough for Stoll, he dates Erin Andrews) and Dustin Brown, made their presence felt. The pair combined for 38 of the team's 160 hits (23.8 percent) between Games 4 and 7. For the series, the Kings out- checked San Jose 329 to 303. That's an average of 47 hits per game. Perhaps that's why San Jose's big three of Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau was so quiet in Games 5 through 7 (no goals on 24 shots).
6. The Sharks pretty much forgot how to play hockey
The numbers speak for themselves: 16 goals in the first three games and only five in the last four. But it wasn't just the disappearance of Pavelski, Marleau and Thornton (16 combined points in the first four games, none in the last three) that sunk the Sharks. San Jose was undisciplined, committing 110 penalty minutes for an average of 27.5 per game in its four losses. The Kings' power play success rate was exactly the same in Games 1-3 as it was in Games 4-7 (25 percent) but the Sharks' reckless play in the latter half of the series led to twice as many chances (eight power plays for Los Angeles in the first three games, 16 in the last four). That's what really drowned the Sharks.
It's back to the drawing board for San Jose. As for the Kings, they get to keep L-I-V-I-N.
Two McConaughey quotes in one column? Yup, my work here is done.