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Postseason no time for complacency with leads

by | CBS Sports

LOS ANGELES -- The NHL playoffs have turned into the last lap of the Daytona 500.

You don't want to be in the lead.

The San Jose Sharks -- two nights removed from becoming the fourth team in NHL playoff history to win after trailing by four or more goals -- weren't overtaken Thursday, although there were a few wobbles here at Staples Center. The Sharks' three-goal advantage was cut to one before San Jose regrouped for a 6-3 victory in Game 4.

Stanley Cup Playoffs

"No lead safe in this game today," smiled Sharks rookie Logan Couture. "It's exciting for the players and the fans as well. After that game the other night, the emotions were crazy going through my body. It's tough to say, but it doesn't feel the same winning tonight. It was a calming, 6-3 win. There wasn't a big comeback."

As the first round of the NHL playoffs wears on, so has the drama. Here's a snapshot:

  The Washington Capitals erased a three-goal, third-period deficit to beat the New York Rangers in Game 4 in double OT on Wednesday.

  The Boston Bruins, down 3-1 midway through the second period Thursday, came out on top, 5-4 in OT.

  Down 3-0 in the best-of-7, first-round series, the Chicago Blackhawks now are only a win away from forcing a Game 7 with the Presidents' Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks after a win on Thursday.

After Tuesday's game, there was certainly reason for optimism among the purple and black faithful after Brad Richardson beat Sharks goalie Antti Niemi after a Ryan Smith shot ricocheted off the boards. Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic then put the puck into his own net with Smyth on his back, a marker that made it 3-2 with less than four minutes left in the second.

"It seems like goals are just coming in succession," Sharks captain Joe Thornton said. "You score a goal. Bang. Next shift a goal is scored [again]."

The Sharks would go on the penalty kill seconds after the ensuing faceoff as defenseman Ian White was called for a trip. The Kings, however, would only get one shot on Niemi as the Sharks escaped to the second intermission with a lead.

"That was huge for us," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "You could feel it a little bit, the same feeling that their bench had ours had [on Tuesday]. That's where composure comes in. To get the penalty kill to get us into the break where we could regroup and retool was huge."

The Sharks -- who allowed two power-play goals in a 4-0 Game 2 loss -- killed off six Kings power plays, including one minute, 58 seconds when they were two skaters down.

A more settled Sharks squad came out for the third period and the lead again swelled to three goals within the first 3:22 of the third period off goals by Thornton and Joe Pavelski. Torre Mitchell (San Jose) and Alexei Ponikarovsky (Los Angles) scored the last two goals for the game's final margin --- although the Sharks did have to kill off those nearly two minutes of 5-on-3 at the end.

"The game wasn't over," Thornton said. "They score and they're still on the power play. Then it could be 6-5. You still have concentrate."

The Sharks have scored 12 goals in two games and were in control all but a few minutes of the second period tonight.

"That's embarrassing," Kings defenseman Jack Johnson said of his team's defense the last two games. "We have to pack up, get to San Jose and go there to win a hockey game. Our backs are against a wall. They're a tough team to play and right now they're playing with a lot of confidence."

And the Sharks are now one win away from advancing to the next round.

"We want to finish this thing off," Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle said. "Anytime you get a chance to win the fourth game, you have to put teams away. You don't want to give them any sign of life whatsoever."

In these playoffs, a pulse never seems that far away.


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