Closing time is here for three Stanley Cup contenders.
Washington, Dallas and San Jose could all move on to the second round with victories Friday night.
The Capitals and the Stars are their conference’s top seeds, and they’re at home against opponents that have looked overmatched at times. Everything is in place for two powers to close out their series for a little rest before they resume their chase.
Nothing is quite that simple for the Sharks, who face an enormous test in Game 5. They’ve got to prove their closing abilities against the Los Angeles Kings, who already victimized San Jose just two years ago in one of the greatest escapes in NHL playoff history.
“We’ve been in this situation, so we know what it takes,” Kings forward Marian Gaborik said Thursday. “We have a group that never quits. We’re going in with the mentality to win one game. It’s all about the next game.”
The Kings were down 0-3 in a first-round series with the powerful Sharks in 2014. Los Angeles promptly reeled off four straight wins and rode that momentum to its second Stanley Cup in three years.
“It’s certainly better 3-1 than 3-0,” Kings coach Darryl Sutter said.
The Sharks could benefit from a change of venue for Game 5. They were more dominant at Staples Center than they were at the Shark Tank, forechecking the Kings to distraction and pressing forward with their elite offensive talent against Los Angeles’ inconsistent defense.
“We’re comfortable on the road,” said Sharks coach Peter DeBoer, who wasn’t around for the 2014 collapse. “We’re very good on the road. I don’t think the venue is an issue. The LA Kings are an issue. They’re going to be a tough out. We know that, but we don’t need to change anything.”
The ghosts of past playoff failures will linger for the Sharks even if they knock out their bitter rivals in five games. The Kings’ improbable escape in 2014 also topped every playoff failure by the consistently excellent Sharks during the entire 19-year career of Patrick Marleau, who is on his 16th playoff team without ever reaching a Stanley Cup Final.
Marleau made a big contribution toward ending that drought with a power-play goal and an assist in Game 4. He has 16 career game-winning postseason goals, tying Jaromir Jagr for the most among active players.