Our final analysis and predictions for the Sharks/Kings series prior to tonight's Game 1 in Los Angeles.
For the second time in three seasons, the Sharks will face the Los Angeles Kings in the playoffs, this time with a berth in the league's final four at stake. While the Sharks dusted the Kings off in six games two springs ago, to say this is a different Los Angeles team would be a gross understatement. Anze Kopitar, injured for the entirety of that series, will be in the lineup this time around providing his brand of three-zone dominance. Jack Johnson, comically bad the last time these teams met in postseason action, was traded for Jeff Carter while former Shark Michal Handzus' 2nd line center spot is now occupied by Carter's drinking buddy and set-up man Mike Richards. I'm also informed the Kings did something of note in last year's playoffs when these teams didn't meet.
But the Sharks are a different team too. Coming off a roller coaster regular season, they dispatched the Vancouver Canucks with a four-game sweep in the first round on the back of Logan Couture's emergence as a two-way standout. San Jose will need him to help counter Kopitar while the remainder of the Sharks' forward depth, cobbled together over the course of the season to the extent that they now rival the 2011 team's stable of horses, outplays that of the Kings if they're to escape this round with their playoff lives. The following is our preview of the series, which opens tonight at 7PM in L.A.
Projected Game 1 Lineups
Patrick Marleau - Logan Couture - Raffi Torres
T.J. Galiardi - Joe Thornton - Brent Burns
Andrew Desjardins - Joe Pavelski - Tommy Wingels
James Sheppard - Scott Gomez - Bracken Kearns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Justin Braun
Matt Irwin - Dan Boyle
Scott Hannan - Brad Stuart
Dustin Brown - Anze Kopitar - Justin Williams
Dwight King - Mike Richards - Jeff Carter
Dustin Penner - Jarret Stoll - Trevor Lewis
Jordan Nolan - Colin Fraser - Tyler Toffoli
Robyn Regehr - Drew Doughty
Jake Muzzin - Slava Voynov
Alec Martinez - Rob Scuderi
||5v5 Goal Differential
Matt: Going in to the first round of the playoffs, I would have definitely had pause picking the Sharks over the Kings in a series. The Kings just looked so damn good, and the Sharks had an up and down season to the extreme. I thought LA would be as tough of a match-up for San Jose as Chicago, and I was happy to see McLellan's boys drop to sixth in the west and avoid the Kings.
Now that the first round is over, though, my tune has changed. Seeing the Sharks easily dispatch the Canucks in four (despite the Canucks being a worse team than their record and roster suggested), gave me a renewed confidence in the team. That, when coupled with the fact that LA had to play a grueling and physical six-game series with St. Louis tips the scales in San Jose's favor.
Rest vs. rust is always worth considering, but I side with rest on this one. Players are banged up around this time (including Havlat, but he's banged up around all times in a perpetual state of bangedupedness), and days off should be counted on as a blessing. I think the Sharks older roster and a goaltender who is worked to the extreme reap the benefits of extra days off.
That being said, LA is an amazing team and one that I could see taking the Sharks out as well. I wouldn't be surprised to see this series go seven, but I'm optimistic it's six and ends with a Sharks win at HP. Just have a feeling. Sharks in 6.
Ann: This is an interesting matchup. And when I use the word interesting, I mean that the teams are so close in talent level that I honestly cannot tell which way it's going to go. Both teams have won four straight. Sharks have playoff history on their side (insert obligatory joke about that being a first here), while the Kings have that tall shiny thing with all their names on it. Something feels different about this Sharks team, but something also feels the same about this Kings team, which is not good for the Sharks. A wise man once said, "BEAT LA!" and I am inclined to agree with him. In a similar-to-the-prior round dose of wishful thinking, Sharks in 6.
Patrick: Sharks will win this series because they are a completely different team from years past and have finally found their grit. Well, except that their core team of Marleau, Thornton, Boyle, Vlasic, Couture, Pavelski... Ah wait...shit... This team hasn't reinvented itself. They are using the same formula that they were using that lead to a lot of success in the 2010-2011 season. Lots of forward depth through center, and putting pucks on net. Shocking.
Anything can happen over a small number games, but one thing is for sure that this playoff matchup will be entertaining. This isn't the same Kings the sharks faced a couple years ago in the first round. Despite a lot of the stats blogosphere gushing over the kings regular season performance, they collapsed a bit down to earth, thanks in part to some questionable GM moves.
Lets hope we see the kings that ended the season, and not the Kings that started it. Sharks in 7.
Can I just say I can't wait for this series? It's the true Battle of California! You know, the match-up with the teams that are actually good. Anyway, this is going to be a great series. These two squads have seen a lot of each other
in recent years, and I'm sure they both have plenty of motivational material. And it's going to be great for the hockey community in California. Matt Tennyson and Alec Martinez are both former Jr. Sharks. That's bound to inspire some youngsters.
I think the big key to winning this series is going to be health. A healthy Jason Demers gives the Sharks a much more mobile defense that could give them an edge. A healthy Martin Havlat can give the Sharks even more depth for their top nine. And both these squads will need to stay healthy throughout the series if they want to beat Chicago in the conference finals. With all that being said, it's going to be tough to keep people from getting banged up in this slobber-knocker of a series. It's going to physical, it's going to be close, and damn, it's going to be entertaining. Sharks in 7.
To me, this could be the redemption playoff run where the Sharks exorcise the demons from their past. They took the first step by avenging their 2011 WCF series lost to the Canucks by sweeping them out of the first round this year for their first ever sweep.
The Sharks now face the LA Kings, who the Sharks beat in six games in the first round back in 2011 but the demon to exercise is the Kings won the Cup before the Sharks did though it did take the Kings 45yrs from their inception in 1967.
How sweet would it be for the Sharks to get past the Kings and then face the Blackhawks (Should they beat Detroit and you can never count out Detroit) in the WCF to exorcise the demon of the 2010 WCF's when they got swept by the Blackhawks? Sharks in 6.
Of all the teams remaining in the Western Conference, the Kings are the only one to scare me. We've seen how Jonathan Quick can get on a roll, and their punishing defensive game limits teams from performing the type of cycle/possession game that the Sharks can exceed at. My biggest hope is that the Sharks' second-half evolution into more of a speed-based attack will help thwart some of Darryl Sutter's suffocating trap.
In terms of forward talent, I'd say things are pretty even -- perhaps a slight edge to the Sharks if/when Martin Havlat's lower body decides to rejoin his upper body. The return of Jason Demers
will help, though I'll give props to Scott Hannan for exceeding expectations in the Vancouver series. And I think Antii Niemi's growth this season is a true step forward, not just a statistical blip on his career.
So it's really a pick 'em, with bounces and injuries deciding the Plinko game that is this match-up. But fuck it, I went balls out before and I'll go balls out again. Sharks in 4.
We sure are an unbiased bunch here at FTF. In all seriousness, the Kings are a much more favorable draw for the Sharks than the Blackhawks
would have been but that isn't to take anything away from what is sure to be a tough out. Fresh off their championship run, the Kings were in the midst of a historically dominant
campaign earlier this season when a slew of uncharacteristically odd moves by Dean Lombardi, ranging from giving away valuable depth scorers Andrei Loktionov
and Simon Gagne
for free to acquiring an over-the-hill Robyn Regehr who proved to be an anchor Darryl Sutter tied around Drew Doughty's
legs, saw them dip a bit by the underlying numbers.
They're still a team built on a solid foundation of dominant possession play but perhaps not quite at the level they were last spring and earlier this year. While they won four straight to defeat the St. Louis Blues
in round one, it was under decidedly different circumstances than when they pulled off the feat a year ago; the Kings generated just 55 scoring chances in that series to 70 by St. Louis
. After a terrible regular season, Jonathan Quick was spectacular against the Blues but it's anyone's guess as to whether that will continue in this series. If history is any indication, the Sharks have had a relatively easy time scoring on Quick in games past but it's dangerous to use a couple dozen games to predict the future. But with their own stud in the crease, the Sharks' ultimate key to the series will be in both goading the Kings into penalties in order to burn them with their lethal power play and ensure Logan Couture and Marc-Edouard Vlasic win their collective matchup against Kopitar. My head says the Kings emerge victorious in six or seven but these paragraphs have essentially been me talking myself into going with my heart, which says Sharks in 7.