SAN JOSE, Calif. – Sharks center Scott Nichol barely showed up in the box score from Thursday night's 6-3 victory over the Los Angeles Kings in Game 4 of their Western Conference Quarterfinal series.
Nichol didn't score a goal. He didn't have an assist. He logged less than seven minutes of ice time. Yet to hear Kings coach Terry Murray tell it, Nichol was the Sharks' MVP as they took a 3-1 series lead.
"He's the reason why they won tonight," Murray said after the game.
A stretch? Sure. But you can't overlook Nichol's role in the second period when the Sharks scored three quick goals to take a 3-0 lead.
The Sharks signed Nichol as a free agent after their disastrous 2008-09 postseason to add some grit to their roster and do exactly what he did Thursday night – irritate opponents out of their comfort zone and into taking stupid penalties.
First, Nichol prodded Kings defenseman Drew Doughty into an on-ice tussle that earned both of them two minutes in the box for roughing. Skating 4-on-4 against a Kings team missing its best defenseman, the explosive Sharks scored two quick goals.
Later in the period, Nichol established position in front of the Kings' net and drew Los Angeles defenseman Matt Greene into a high-sticking penalty – Greene's stick cut Nichol's forehead -- sending him to the box for four minutes. San Jose scored on the power play.
"If it's playoffs or regular season, you're always trying to make a mark on the game," Nichol said. "If you play 20 minutes or six or seven minutes, you want to try and change the momentum or try and do something that creates momentum."
Nichol typically does that by creating bad blood with his relentless play. On the ice, Nichol is the equivalent of sandpaper on sunburned skin for opponents. He's the shortest and lightest Shark, but he's a 5-foot-9, 180-pound bundle of energy and irritation. Opponents know better than to lash out at Nichol, but there are times when they just can't help themselves.
That's what happened to Doughty after Nichol took a long run at him and delivered a hard check. An angry Doughty started yelling at Nichol, who skated up to him and gave him a shove. Doughty responded, and they both headed off to the penalty box in a trade the Sharks gladly made – their fourth-line center for the Kings' top defenseman.
"I'm a little disappointed, that's not really the right tradeoff at all," Doughty told reporters in Los Angeles on Friday. "But emotions were running high. (Nichol) tried to knee me and then he knocked out my teeth. So I was upset, but that's the turning point in the game. They got two goals when I was in the box, so I can't be doing that."
Nichol, recounting the scene, made no mention of missing teeth.
"I went to hit him and then I heard him kind of yelling, chirping a little bit, so I just skated over to him to see what was wrong, and he didn't like that I guess too much," Nichol said.
Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle faced Nichol plenty of times before Nichol joined the Sharks. He likes it better now that Nichol is on his side.
"He's definitely not fun to play against, but he's certainly fun to play for and with and watch," Boyle said. "The guy just never quits. He's the energizer bunny out there. He was obviously a big part of the win yesterday. I don't believe he was on the score sheet but he was a big reason why we won and he's just one of those guys you love to have on your team.
"You need those guys. Every team has a few of those guys. Certainly L.A. does guys who get under your skin. Scotty is one of those guys who just plays hard, gets under the other team's skin. They take a retaliatory penalty on him. That's good for us."
Nichol said he plays the same way every time he steps on the ice, whether it's an exhibition game or a Stanley Cup Playoff game. He goes all-out, all-the time.
"That's the thing -- you don't have to turn it up when playoffs come because you're so used to playing that role and that style," Nichol said. "It's just good habits flowing into the playoffs."
Doughty can't be too happy with Nichol heading into Game 5, and Murray made it clear Thursday night how he feels about Sharks forward Dany Heatley's actions late in the game when he earned two minutes in the box for tripping Alec Martinez from behind. Murray called it a "dangerous play" and a "gutless move" that deserved a game misconduct penalty.
"He tried to get out of the way of me and I just didn't move and whatever," Heatley said Friday after the Sharks' optional practice. "Nothing more than that for me."
Was he surprised at Murray's reaction?
"In a playoff series you try to get a little excitement going or things like that," Heatley said. "I saw it once and I saw his comments but I didn't think it was a big deal at all."
What's foremost on the Sharks' mind now is winning Game 5 and clinching the series.
"When you have the opportunity to win that fourth game you have to take advantage of it," Boyle said. "We're at home, we don't want to have to get back on a plane and go back there and fight for another 60-plus minutes. You want to take care of business when you can, get the extra rest. You have to take advantage of it. When you can put a team away, put them away."