LOS ANGELES -- Game 7.
It explains itself.
No matter how many you’ve played, it’s special unto itself.
“But at the same time, control the butterflies, be calm, be confident; that’s how we aim to approach it,” Williams added after the morning skate at Staples Center.
“We had lost Game 5 on a short-handed overtime goal, and then we got completely embarrassed in Game 6 [in Edmonton]. It wasn’t even close,” Williams said. “So, obviously, we had to regroup, refocus and maintain. Just like everyone says, ‘Hey, if you could play one game for the Stanley Cup, you guys would take it at the start of the year.’ That was the approach. I don’t think I slept that day, but I was ready to play.”
On Tuesday morning, the San Jose Sharks players were loose and relaxed again at the pregame skate.
It may mean nothing come game’s end Tuesday night, but it’s unmistakable that the Sharks are acting like they’re playing with house money.
“This team really does have a lot of fun with each other; we’ve really just enjoyed this run and we want to continue it after tonight,” Sharks captain Joe Thornton said after the morning skate.
Veteran defenseman Dan Boyle says it’s a different feeling this year for the Sharks, who didn’t enter the playoffs under the weight of expectations.
“For many years we’ve been picked [to go far] and people get disappointed year in and year out. This year it’s been the other way around, where we weren’t picked to win the first series [against the Vancouver Canucks] and we weren’t picked to win this one,” Boyle said. “It’s a different situation for us. Whether that’s good or bad, we’ll see. But not a lot of people thought we would be here at this point.”
Less than two months ago, the Sharks were in the process of trading away three veteran players: Ryane Clowe, Michal Handzus and Douglas Murray. And if the team had kept losing, who knows who else would have been gone.
“We were probably a couple of losses away from a big blowup; a couple of us were mentioned in trade rumors,” Boyle said. “We just stuck through it, came together as a team and have played very well since we made a couple of those deals.”
Ever since that day, the Sharks have played as if every day was a bonus for them. Which is why coach Todd McLellan said he’s not planning any big speech before Game 7.
“There are still things we need to address, but there isn’t a rah-rah speech that’s going to go on,” McLellan said. “They’re motivating themselves, they’re playing for each other. There’s nothing more powerful in sport than when a group of people come together and play for each other. If they have to play because the coach is motivating them, I don’t think we’ll be successful.”
Williams, though, downplayed San Jose’s underdog role. After all, he said, these teams were separated by only one point in the standings this season.
“You can say anything to make yourself think whatever you want,” Williams said. “In here, we don’t care. Underdog? They’re a successful hockey team, and so are we. You want to finish your season with a win. If you don’t, you get a sour taste for the summer, and we don’t want that tonight.”
Sutter demands more of LWs
Kings coach Darryl Sutter pointed to production -- or, rather, a lack thereof -- from the team’s left wingers as an issue heading into Game 7.
“We need more from our left side, period,” Sutter said Tuesday morning. “We’ve got two even-strength goals in the whole playoffs from our left side. When you’re talking about lines, that’s one of our three that aren’t pulling their weight.”
Captain Dustin Brown played left wing on the top line with Anze Kopitar until two games ago, when he was shifted to right wing on the third line and scored his team’s lone goal from that spot Sunday. He has three goals in 12 playoff games.
First goal means something
The team scoring first in this series is 6-0. Scoring first seems to calm that team down and allow it to set the tone. It looms large heading into Game 7.
“Both teams rely heavily on their goaltenders, so I think getting that first goal kind of calms both benches down,” Thornton said. “I think it’s 70 percent in these playoffs -- if you score the first goal, that team wins. So it’s going to be huge for us tonight.”
Asked what the Sharks were doing well against them in this series, Brown pointed to one specific player: Thornton.
“He's been a pretty dominant force throughout the series,” Brown said. “He is really good on the offensive side of the puck. I think that's probably been the biggest part of the series for them is No. 19. From our blue line in, he's been really big and really hard. He's so big and strong, and then you add his skill level into it, it's a tough combo to defend. I think guys have battled hard against him, but he's been effective.”
Both second-round series in the Western Conference need seventh games to decide them, a fact Sutter felt was reflective of the competition in the West.
“Look at it, our conference has four teams going to Game 7,” Sutter said. “It tells you how good the conference is and how close the teams are. That’s clear. There’s not a top to bottom, and it’s probably the way it should be.
“The teams are really, really close.”