SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA – Even when they found themselves in a 3-0 series deficit to San Jose, the Los Angeles Kings never doubted they had what it took to mount a memorable comeback.
That’s what winning a Stanley Cup together two years earlier can do for a team’s confidence and that’s how a lack of postseason success can eat away at another’s psyche.
Anze Kopitar scored the tiebreaking goal late in the second period and Jonathan Quick made 39 saves to cap the Kings’ historic comeback from three games down with a 5-1 victory over the Sharks in Game 7 of their first-round series Wednesday night.
“When you’ve gone to the top of the mountain with the same group of guys it’s a little bit easier when you’re at the bottom to come up,” said captain Dustin Brown, who scored an empty-net goal to seal the game. “That’s what a lot of this team is about, our guys who have stuck together and played together for years.”
Drew Doughty, Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson also scored for the Kings, who became the fourth NHL team to win a best-of-seven series after losing the first three games.
The Kings joined Toronto (1942), the New York Islanders (1975) and Philadelphia (2010) as the only teams to complete that comeback and now will get another California showdown in the second-round with the first Freeway Playoff against the Anaheim Ducks.
“That’s fantastic,” Doughty said. “This is something we’re all going to remember for the rest of our lives. We’re not done yet. We have to move on.”
Matt Irwin scored the lone goal and Antti Niemi made 25 saves for the Sharks, who added perhaps their most bitter playoff disappointment to a history of them. San Jose has the second most regular-season wins in the NHL the past 10 seasons but has never made it past the conference finals.
“This is as low as it’s been for me, and for the players that have been together for the six years that I’ve been here,” coach Todd McLellan said.
The way the Sharks started this series by outscoring the Kings 17-8 to win the first three games, it looked as if this could finally be their year.
But Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and the rest of their stars went mostly missing the final four games, the power play could not convert on its final 15 chances and the defense made too many lapses, leading to their second straight Game 7 loss to their California rivals.
“There’s been a lot of low points, but yeah, this is definitely one of them being up 3-0,” Marleau said.
Wild 5, Avalanche 4 (OT)
In Denver, Nino Niederreiter scored his second goal of the game at 5:02 of overtime and Ilya Bryzgalov made a big save filling in for an injured Darcy Kuemper, leading Minnesota to the victory in Game 7.
It’s the first playoff series win for the Wild since 2003.
Minnesota trailed 4-3 before Jared Spurgeon scored on a nifty play with 2:27 left in regulation. Spurgeon waited for a clear look at the goal, and then shot it over Semyon Varlamov’s shoulder and off the left post.
Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley had the other goals for the Wild, who will face the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks in the second round.
Nick Holden, Jamie McGinn, Paul Stastny and Erik Johnson scored for the Avalanche.
Rangers 2, Flyers 1
In New York, Daniel Carcillo and Benoit Pouliot scored second-period goals as New York advanced to the second round of the playoffs with a victory over Philadelphia.
The Rangers shook off a 5-2 thrashing in Philadelphia on Tuesday and knocked out the Flyers about 24 hours later, improving to 6-0 in Game 7s at Madison Square Garden. New York will face another Metropolitan Division rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins, in the next round starting on Friday.
Henrik Lundqvist made 26 saves, allowing only a third-period goal to Jason Akeson 4:32 into the final frame. He protected the one-goal lead at 7:25 when he made an awkward save against Claude Giroux.
The Rangers mobbed Lundqvist after the final buzzer, while the Flyers consoled their goalie Steve Mason.
Mason, who didn’t start until Game 4 because of injury, was sharp in stopping 31 shots, but he couldn’t will his club to a complete comeback after the Flyers fell into a 3-2 series hole.