The last time the Sharks won a game in the unfriendly confines of Staples Center, Ryane Clowe got away with illegally playing a puck from the bench to break up a Kings odd-man rush. It's been tough sledding for the Sharks in L.A. throughout recent history when they aren't able to, uh, massage the rules to their advantage. Prior to that 6-5 shootout win on April 5th, 2012, the Sharks' last win in Los Angeles ended with Joe Thornton sliding across the ice in celebration after scoring in overtime to eliminate the Kings in Game 6 of the 2011 first round.
With the Sharks on the verge of taking a 3-0 stranglehold on this year's first round series, they're hoping to channel some of the magic that allowed them to take all three games in Southern California the last time these teams met in the quarterfinals. Including this past spring's second-round series and the first two games of this year's matchup, home teams are 22-1-1 in the previous 24 meetings between San Jose and Los Angeles. Line-matching has been key throughout this series, as it was a year ago, and Darryl Sutter now has the ability to keep Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards away from Logan Couture and Joe Thornton, respectively, as neither matchup went the Kings' way in San Jose.
The key for the Sharks is to respond with three lines capable of winning the scoring chance battle, with one of them bound to create an on-ice mismatch against Jarret Stoll regardless of how Sutter deploys his forwards. That means keeping Joe Pavelski at center where he spent the final 45 minutes of Game 2 alongside James Sheppard and Tommy Wingels. It's unclear whether that's how the lines will shake out to start the game, as Pavelski was back on the wing with Thornton and Brent Burns at morning skate. The key to this game, series and, to a large extent, the Sharks' postseason chances as a whole rests on whether Todd McLellan makes the decision to spread out his offensive weapons across three lines. That's a luxury the Sharks haven't enjoyed in most of their recent losses in L.A.; maybe having it this time around is enough to turn the tide.
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