LOS ANGELES -- The Sharks are going down to the wire in their series with the Los Angeles Kings, and coach Todd McLellan could not have been clearer in his thoughts on the goal that started the downhill slide in a 4-1 loss Monday night.
"We got cheated," McLellan said. "Simple as that."
The goal by Kings forward Justin Williams at 11:56 of the third period of a 1-1 game came on a play that the Sharks thought should have been blown dead because goalie Alex Stalock covered the puck. It was reviewed, but the call on the ice stood.
"I was told you could see the puck laying behind his feet the whole time and that's why the whistle didn't go," McLellan said. "But it was pretty clear if you look at it afterward."
Now the Sharks face the possibility of becoming only the fourth NHL team to lose a playoff series after taking the first three games. And the fact San Jose won the first two by a combined 13-5 margin only makes that development more puzzling.
The disputed goal by Williams was the first of three during a span of 2:46 that quickly ended any San Jose thoughts of forcing overtime. It was Williams' second of the night, with Kings center Anze Kopitar potting the next two to spoil what had been a strong first playoff start for Stalock.
The Sharks' only goal of the night was a second-period deflection by James Sheppard, as Jonathan Quick made 25 saves for the win.
Stalock got his first start in net after coming in each of the previous two games in relief of struggling Antti Niemi. McLellan said he thought Stalock played well and "has a shot to play Game 7."
That wasn't the only lineup change for the Sharks. Matt Irwin replaced injured defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who was hurt Game 5 after a hit by Kings forward Jarret Stoll that resulted in a roughing penalty. McLellan also inserted forward Marty Havlat into the series for the first time, replacing Mike Brown.
The game turned into the one both coaches have been predicting all along -- tight-checking and -- until the Kings' goal explosion in the third period -- low scoring.
For the fifth consecutive game, the Kings got on the scoreboard first, when defenseman Drew Doughty carried the puck deep down the left sideboards and fired a cross-crease pass to an unchecked Williams for an easy tap-in at 5:39 of the first period.
In the second period, the Sharks power play had three chances to tie the game -- including a 1:38 stretch with a two-man advantage -- but failed.
Just 32 seconds after their final power play expired, however, San Jose did get on the scoreboard when Justin Braun launched a shot from the right point that Sheppard tipped past Quick at 12:26, ending a San Jose scoring drought at 100:50.
That's where the score stayed until just after the midway point of the third period on the disputed play that started when Kings defenseman Robyn Regehr tossed the puck at the net from the left sideboards.
"I thought everybody in the building saw that it was an innocent shot from the side that ended up getting tipped in front and went between my legs," Stalock said. "From there, it was I guess lying behind my skates. They pushed it into the net, and it was a good goal."
Kopitar scored on an odd-man-rush at 13:27 and added his second 75 seconds later.
"At that point with seven minutes left, you open it up a little bit," McLellan said. "Two, three shifts later we're caught pinching, we give up an outnumbered rush, and it's not completely over but gloomy. They're a tough team to play against when they have the lead. You open it up and they make you pay for it."
At that point, emotions boiled over, with Logan Couture challenging Kings forward Mike Richards to a fight and a scrum developing after that centered on Joe Thornton and Quick. Before it was over, the Sharks received three 10-minute misconducts and the Kings got two.
The Sharks tried to take some comfort in the fact Game 7 will be played at the SAP Center on Wednesday night.
"We play 82 games to have home ice in this situation," Thornton said. "We'd like to have won tonight, and I thought we played well until that one goal we thought should have been disallowed. We go home and it's a huge game."