LOS ANGELES — Kings coach Terry Murray called it the turning point of the game. A more accurate description might be the point of no return.
The Kings and San Jose Sharks were locked in a scoreless battle Thursday night in Game 4 of their Western Conference quarterfinal series at Staples Center. Then defenseman Drew Doughty didn't like the way Scott Nichol made a run at him in the defensive zone and turned and barked at the fourth-line center.
Nichol charged at Doughty and both soon came together in a shoving match, earning two-minute roughing penalties for each.
Less than a minute later, the Sharks scored the game's first goal after a missed scoring opportunity at the other end for the Kings. Just like that, the floodgates opened and the Sharks scored twice more in the next 5 ½ minutes, putting the Kings in a hole for good in what turned into a 6-3 loss at Staples Center.
The loss gave the Sharks a 3-1 advantage in the best-of-seven series that resumes Saturday in San Jose. One more defeat and the Kings will be looking at another long offseason.
“They scored two goals on a four-on-four, but up to that point it was a pretty good game,” Murray said. “Give Nichol credit, he’s the reason that they won tonight.”
Murray also referred to the double-minor high-sticking penalty Nichol drew after the Sharks took their 2-0 lead. The Kings nearly killed the ensuing four-minute power play, but Ryane Clowe scored with 32 seconds remaining on the man advantage and the Kings were suddenly looking at a three-goal deficit.
The Kings made a late push later in the period to cut the deficit to 3-2, but the Sharks scored twice in first 3 ½ minutes of the third to put them back down by three goals.
“I really liked our competition to make it a 3-2 game,” Murray said. “And then whatever happened in the third with giveaways, turnovers, lost faceoffs, that’s sometimes a hard thing to explain.”
What’s more difficult to explain is how the Kings could go from shutting out the Sharks in Game 2 in San Jose to allowing 12 goals in two games on their home ice, including eight in the second periods alone.
“That’s embarrassing,” said Kings defenseman Jack Johnson, who finished minus-two for the game. “We have to pack up, get to San Jose and go there to win a hockey game. Our backs are against a wall. They’re a tough team to play and right now they’re playing with a lot of confidence, but we should be a tough team to play against because there’s no tomorrow for us. If we lose it’s the season, so we have to go there to win a hockey game and expect nothing else.”
Johnson said the solution is simple.
“Stop them from scoring six goals a game,” he said. “We’re not going to win a game if they score six goals a game, it’s the just the way it is. We’ve had success in scoring goals in the series, fortunately, but we’re not an offensive team, we’re a defensive team, and if we’re letting in that many goals we’re in a lot of trouble. We can’t let them score.”
Easier said than done, it seems.