April 23, 2016 By Paul Gackle

Thornton On Sharks Redemption Against Kings: ‘We Proved It’s a Different Year’

LOS ANGELES — After the Sharks allowed an early 3-0 lead to slip away, captain Joe Pavelski offered his teammates a simple message with the score tied at the second intermission: “go work and win a period and close out a series.”

The team responded, scoring two goals and an empty netter to clinch a 6-3 win over the Los Angeles Kings at the Staples Center on Friday, advancing into the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs and exorcising the demons of 2014.

“The message with the group was more about, ‘we’re here. We’re in this position, it doesn’t really matter how we got here’,” Pavelski said. “You’d like to perform a little better with that 3-0 lead, but we’re in a position where it’s 20 minutes — go work.”

The Sharks ability to battle back from adversity in the third period in Game 5 shows just how different the current team is from the squad that squandered a 3-0 series lead to the Kings just two years ago.

In 2014, after the first domino dropped in their series with the Kings, the others fell in succession until the Sharks were skating through the handshake line at the end of Game 7, dumbfounded at what had just happened.

On Friday, the Sharks regrouped at the second intermission and reversed the course of the game’s momentum, scoring the go-ahead goal just 3:58 into the frame, adding an insurance goal less than nine minutes later and holding the Kings to just four shots on goal in the period, reestablishing the defensive game that carried the team to a 28-12-4 record after Jan. 9.

“It is a new team,” alternate captain Joe Thornton said. “We’ve got so many new faces and we really, truly believed that this was just a different year and we proved it’s a different year.”

Joonas Donskoi, who was busy winning a championship with Karpat in the Finnish Liiga in 2014, scored the game-winning goal with a Herculean effort. Donskoi carried the puck to the net by holding off Norris Trophy favorite Drew Doughty. After his shot was blocked, Donskoi hung around the net and the flipped the puck past goalie Jonathan Quick after it slipped off Brent Burns’ stick on a shot attempt.

“I don’t think he’s sneaky strong — he’s strong,” Burns said, referring to Donskoi. “He’s an unbelievably-skilled guy. He’s a little older, so he’s mature. His confidence with the puck is better than a lot of old guys. He’s got the hands, and he’s got that confidence, and that makes a guy like him really difficult to play against.”

The goal provided redemption for Donskoi, who was on the ice for all three goals against in the second period.

Joe Pavelski gave the Sharks a two-goal cushion at 12:24 of the third, scoring his fifth goal of the series.

After the Sharks jumped out to a 3-0 lead just 24:05 into the game, the desperation everyone expected to see from the Kings in Game 5 finally kicked in.

The Kings got on the board at 7:44 of the second when a Drew Doughty shot bounced off Dwight King and Anze Kopitar’s legs before finding the back of the Sharks net. Jeff Carter cut the lead to 3-2 less than four minutes later after the Sharks left him all alone in front of their net.

Kris Versteeg completed the comeback, putting home the rebound of a Kyle Clifford floater from in close at 16:36 of the second.

“You have to give L.A. credit. I don’t think we did anything differently. They ramped it up,” head coach Peter DeBoer said.

“They’ve got a lot of proud guys in there that have multiple Stanley Cup rings. Like they did all series, they got their backs to the wall and they pushed back very hard. Last game, we weathered the storm a little better when they did. Tonight, we stumbled a little bit but found our footing again.”

Although the Sharks entered the game having lost five-consecutive potential series-clinching games against the Kings, the team stayed calm amidst the storm.

“We’ve got a real-composed group. Our leadership is excellent,” DeBoer said. “There’s not many things the guys in that room haven’t been a part of or seen in that situation before.”

“It was calm. We knew at the end of the day we had 20 minutes to try and eliminate a great team, and we would have taken that situation all day long starting in training camp.”

After Game 3, DeBoer insisted the team needed to get more from its bottom three lines in the series, and the depth responded, helping the Sharks jump out to a 3-0 lead.

Donskoi scored his first goal of the playoffs just 1:08 into the game. Chris Tierney notched his first playoff tally at 11:21 of the first and Matt Nieto found the back of the net for the first time in the postseason at 4:05 of the second.

Melker Karlsson recorded an empty netter with 22 seconds left in regulation.

“The depth allowed us to get through,” DeBoer said. “There’s a reason they (the Sharks) haven’t been able to get over the hump like this in the past and I think that’s a big part of it. That’s the difference with our group right now is we have the depth, contributing depth, that we can play.”

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