Playing for the first time since injuring his right knee back on Feb. 12, the goal-scoring hero of the Kings' 2014 playoff couldn't immediately find his finishing touch against a resilient San Jose Sharks team that has won most of the battles — large and small — thus far in their Western Conference first-round playoff series.
The Sharks, not known as an especially stingy defensive team, held the Kings to single digits on the shot clock until deep into the second period en route to a 2-1 victory at Staples Center. The win gave the Sharks a 2-0 lead in their best-of-seven-game series, which switches to San Jose for Game 3 on Monday night.
Two years ago, the Kings spotted the Sharks a 3-0 series lead, before rallying with four consecutive wins and an escape for the ages in the first round.
Still, they're playing with fire if they think they can do that again.
This current edition of the Sharks seems to have far more composure and defensive awareness. The Kings have been unable to get enough shots through against goaltender Martin Jones, Jonathan Quick's former understudy, who has inherited the Sharks' starting job and done a thoroughly professional job against his former team.
The lone goal allowed by Jones came with 5:01 remaining in the third period. A swarm of Kings jammed at several chances in front as Jones lost his stick, and the puck squirted to the open Vinny Lecavalier, who converted for his first playoff goal for the Kings.
Kings Coach Darryl Sutter played Gaborik up and down the lineup, trying to find a fit on Anze Kopitar's line and also with Lecavalier. On balance, Gaborik played reasonably well considering the long layoff and was one of the Kings' more dangerous forwards.
“We've got to start playing our game and right now we're not playing our game at all,” Kings forward Milan Lucic said. “We've got to stop playing with frustration and start using our emotion in the right way.”
The Kings were outscored, 13-5, in their first two losses to the Sharks in 2014. So, is getting outscored, 6-4, a promising sign?
San Jose scored on its first shot of the game, going to the hot hand, Joe Pavelski. Pavelski got open and scored on a quick snipe from the right circle, beating Quick, at 3:37 of the first period.
In the first four periods of the series, Pavelski had recorded three goals. He added an assist on the Sharks' second goal, by Logan Couture, coming on a five-on-three advantage at 8:44 of the second period.
The Sharks took advantage when Tyler Toffoli (roughing) and Lucic (charging) were sent to the penalty box at the same time.
“They're doing their part and we're not doing ours,” Kopitar said. “We've got to get in our heads that we've got to play better.”
The other significant lineup change for the Kings involved defenseman Jamie McBain, who made his NHL playoff debut, drawing in for the injured Alec Martinez. Martinez, who has an unspecified injury, did not play in the third period of Thursday's 4-3 loss to the Sharks in Game 1.
The other Kings' scratches for Game 2 were forwards Kyle Clifford and Andy Andreoff. Center Nick Shore also made his playoff debut for the Kings.
It has been a long wait for McBain to appear in a playoff game. He played with 345 regular-season games with Carolina, Buffalo and the Kings.
“Jamie's been solid for us all year whenever we put him in,” Sutter said after the morning skate. “If you look at last game and we go down to five [defensemen], a couple of guys with very limited playoff experience in the lineup in that game, [Luke] Schenn and Brayden [McNabb]. It definitely affected us.
“What do we expect out of Jamie? We expect him to be a really good competitor and move the puck. If he doesn't, then we're going to have a problem.”
Follow Lisa Dillman on Twitter @reallisa