LOS ANGELES — The puck was sitting underneath Sharks goalie Alex Stalock when Justin Williams whacked at his pads and the narrow space between them. Like a magic trick, the puck popped out behind Stalock in the San Jose net.
While Sharks coach Todd McLellan decried the legality of the tiebreaking goal, the Los Angeles Kings celebrated their latest, greatest escape yet.
Down 3-0 just a few days ago, the Kings squeezed through that minuscule opening and emerged in Game 7.
Williams scored the go-ahead goal with 8:04 to play, and the Kings beat the Sharks 4-1 in Game 6 on Monday night, rallying all the way back from a daunting series deficit.
Williams and Anze Kopitar each had two goals and an assist, and Jonathan Quick made 25 saves as the Kings became just the ninth team in NHL history to force a seventh game after losing the first three.
“We certainly didn’t want to go away quiet,” Kopitar said. “We’re only thinking about one more step now. We’re going to have to play our best game of the series up there.”
Just three teams in NHL history have rallied from an 3-0 deficit to win a series, and Los Angeles has earned a shot to join them. The winner of the California rivals’ third playoff meeting in four years will face the top-seeded Anaheim Ducks in the second round.
After watching three Kings goals and several violent scrums in the final minutes, Los Angeles’ fans roared with an intensity that likely hadn’t been reached since the Kings’ Stanley Cup run two years ago, sending their team back to the Shark Tank on Wednesday night.
A tie game turned when Williams whacked home Robyn Regehr’s shot at Stalock, using the opportunistic scoring sense that has made the two-time Stanley Cup champion into a clutch playoff performer.
“Maybe we got a break, maybe we didn’t,” Williams said. “But nobody blew the whistle.”
San Jose’s bench loudly protested the call, saying the puck should have been blown dead under Stalock, but it was upheld on video review.
“We got cheated,” McLellan said. “Simple as that. I was told that you could see the puck laying behind his feet the whole time.”
McLellan said the Sharks couldn’t see the puck on video review. Kings coach Darryl Sutter thought replays showed the puck was loose.
Kopitar followed with two goals 1:15 apart for the Kings, who have outscored San Jose 13-4 in the last three games after San Jose dominated the first three by a combined 17-8.
Stalock stopped 26 shots in his first NHL playoff start, and James Sheppard scored on a double deflection in the second period for the spiraling Sharks. After utterly dominating the first two games, San Jose has scored just one goal against Quick in the last 128:24 in the series.
“In my mind, if it gets to Game 7, it doesn’t matter how it gets there,” said Sharks forward Logan Couture. “It gets there, and you’re going for one game. We played all year for the home ice. I’m sure our building is going to be loud. We’ve got to turn this thing around and win that game.”
McLellan changed starting goalies after Stanley Cup winner Antti Niemi was pulled from each of the last two losses. McLellan took a risk on Stalock, whose NHL experience consists of 27 regular-season games and 57 minutes of scoreless relief in this series.
Drew Doughty had two assists for Los Angeles, which lost the first three games of the series in discouraging fashion before rallying with resounding victories at home in Game 4 and at the Shark Tank in Game 5 on Saturday night. Doughty set up the Kings’ first goal with a sharp pass to Williams, who has four goals in the Kings’ last two home games.
San Jose got a 5-on-3 advantage for 1:38 early in the second period, but the Kings killed it off. The Sharks finally tied it moments after a third fruitless power play when Sheppard deflected Justin Braun’s slap shot out of midair and off Regehr.
After Williams’ go-ahead score, Kopitar got loose on a 2-on-1 rush with Williams, who set him up perfectly. Kopitar added a power-play goal.
The Philadelphia Flyers are one of the three teams to accomplish what the Kings hope to do, rallying from three games down to beat Boston in 2010 with a roster including current Kings forwards Jeff Carter and Mike Richards.
The Sharks played without key defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who left Game 5 early with an upper-body injury. The Canadian Olympic gold medalist was replaced by Matt Irwin, while streaky forward Marty Havlat also was in San Jose’s lineup for the first time in the series, replacing Mike Brown.