LOS ANGELES -- The Sharks started a new goalie Monday night. It paid off for 21/2 periods of hockey.

And after that, Alex Stalock learned what it feels like to be a sluice gate in a Los Angeles flood.

So did the Sharks.

And they had better figure out how to swim better by Wednesday night, or else it's going to be a very, very, very long offseason.

The Los Angeles Kings scored three goals in the game's final 10 minutes Monday to dump a 4-1 loss on the Sharks in Game 6 of their playoff series. It also wiped out any trace of the seemingly comfortable edge the Sharks had a week ago after winning the first three games in the best-of-seven.

Welcome to a best-of-one, Wednesday night at SAP Center.

And it would be helpful if some of the Sharks' top scorers from the regular season managed to put some pucks on the net in that one. Stalock, who replaced Antti Niemi in the net Monday, wasn't the sole reason the Sharks lost. Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton have been way too quiet in the last two games.

"We need a Game 7 performance from everybody," said Sharks coach Todd McLellan, throwing down the gauntlet to his team, which has been outscored 7-1 in its last two games. "Our big guys are going to have to find a way to get on the board at some point. We have done it before and can do it again."


Advertisement

The fact is, Stalock played a decent game until L.A.'s Justin Williams broke a 1-1 tie with a controversial goal that had McLellan saying his team got "cheated" because the puck should have been whistled dead as it sat underneath Stalock's legs.

Darryl Sutter, the Kings' coach, naturally had a different view.

"The only thing I could see from the bench was the referee going like this and not blowing his whistle," Sutter said, mimicking the arm-downward move that signifies a good goal.

The replay, frankly, was inconclusive. But it didn't matter. The goal counted. What happened next was the bigger problem, pegged accurately by Logan Couture.

"It's up to the team, the leaders and coaching staff to regroup after a goal like that, which we didn't," said Couture.

After the disputed goal, the Sharks were still just one goal behind. But they sagged and allowed the Kings to freewheel their way to the other two goals that put the game out of reach. Then followed some shoving and fists and scuffles involving such unlikely suspects as Thornton and Couture.

"Emotion," said McLellan.

"A waste of time and energy, to be quite honest," said Sutter.

Whatever you call it, if that's the snapshot the Sharks want to carry into a Game 7, the picture isn't a pretty one. A week ago, such a scenario seemed unlikely after the Sharks had taken their commanding lead in the series. But as the games have progressed, one team has found more hop in its step and more offense on its sticks. That team isn't the one wearing teal.

By the sixth game of any hockey series, the players' legs are feeling every stride and their shoulders are bruised from all the checking of the previous five games. The performances can be as much about will as skill.

The Sharks did a better job on their forecheck Monday, did some good things. But they still need more from the likes of Pavelski, who has just one shot on goal in the last two games -- or Marleau, who hasn't scored since his overtime winner in Game 3.

To say the series turned around abruptly and decisively after that third game is woefully accurate. In Game 1 through Game 3, the Sharks outscored the Kings 17-8. In Game 4 through Game 6, the Kings outscored the Sharks 13-4.

"There's really no difference if you're up three or down three, it's still about closing it out," Sutter said. "Somebody is going to win Game 7. Somebody is going to lose."

Once you get to a Game 7, anything can happen between two evenly matched teams. Only three times in NHL history has a team taken a 3-0 lead in a series and then blown it by losing in seven games. The Sharks don't want to be a fourth.

The last thing you want is that seventh game, series hanging in the balance, with a puck bouncing wildly and a skate or a kneepad sending it into the net for a series-winning goal.

But that's the situation in which the Sharks find themselves. If they are counting on a good bounce to win, they are in major trouble. The better team has the best chance Wednesday. They need to figure out how to become the better team in a hurry.

Read Mark Purdy's blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/purdy. Contact him at mpurdy@mercurynews.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MercPurdy.