SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Even when they found themselves in a 3-0 series deficit to San Jose, the Los Angeles Kings never doubted they had what it takes 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. The Sharks took their first lead since Game 3 in the opening minute of the second when Irwin's point shot beat Quick through a screen to provide a jolt to the crowd that only got bigger when San Jose drew a penalty less than a minute later.
But a hooking call on Tommy Wingels negated that power play and Logan Couture then got called for an elbowing penalty, giving Los Angeles a two-man advantage for 6 seconds. Before Wingels could get back into the play, Doughty tied it when he beat Niemi from the faceoff circle.
The Sharks had three more power plays in the second period to give them a chance to go back ahead, but Los Angeles killed every one of them with Quick robbing Marleau with a glove save on the goal line to thwart San Jose's best chance.
"Those were obviously critical," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "Jonathan was able to make that one highlight save. I think that gave us a little momentum." That save was emblematic of a remarkable turnaround this series for Quick, who allowed 16 goals the first three games but held the Sharks to just five over the final four wins.
The Kings responded after the fourth penalty kill when last year's Game 7 hero Justin Williams found Kopitar, who made a nifty move to beat Niemi with a backhand to give him points in all seven games this series.
"Drew, Quickie and Kopi were our three best players tonight," Brown said. "You win and lose with your best players." The Sharks lost because their core players came up empty late in the series with Irwin and third-liner James Sheppard getting the only goals in the final three games.
"I think their defense just swallowed us up right now, to be honest with you," Thornton said. "They just played real tight defensively and their goaltender got hot like he usually does this time of the year."
NOTES: The Kings became the fifth team to beat the same opponent in Game 7 in consecutive seasons. ... Both teams were without a key defenseman as San Jose's Marc-Edouard Vlasic missed his second straight game with an upper-body injury and Willie Mitchell was out for Los Angeles after getting hurt in Game 6.