As our beloved Chicago Blackhawks prepare to take on the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, on the west coast, two Pacific Division titans will be squaring off in the second shift of this evening’s playoff hockey: the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings.
Like the Blues and Blackhawks, the Sharks and Kings are powerhouses in their respective division and under different circumstances would be primed for deep playoff runs, which makes it tragic that one of these promising squads must ultimately face elimination in the opening round of the post season. Also like the Blues-Blackhawks series, the Sharks-Kings series is a very tough one to call, and could easily be determine in a Game 7, just like what happen during last year’s post season when these two Cali teams crossed paths. Let’s break it down:
San Jose Sharks
Unlike their southern California rival, the Sharks are not known for their success in the playoffs. While always posting a strong regular season record and being a post season staple for the past 10 years, the Sharks just can’t seem to escape their playoff choke-artist reputation (like when they were swept by the Blackhawks in the 2010 playoffs).
Nevertheless, the Sharks have a lot of offensive firepower in forwards Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, and Logan Couture; all who despite various ups and downs, have put up solid numbers this season.
Of course the one player that keeps the Sharks on most Hawks fans’ radars is their net-minder Antti Niemi who made his bones winning the 2010 Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks. Niemi hasn’t been exactly turning heads this season the way he has been known to in the past, despite earning a Vezina Trophy nomination last year.
Regardless, the Sharks have maintained a very high level of play all season long and expectations are high from them to make a big splash in the playoffs.
Los Angeles Kings
The Kings are far more seasoned in the post season than the Sharks; making two consecutive deep playoff runs, one of which ended with a Stanley Cup hoisting, the other that ended at the hands of the Blackhawks. The Kings got the better of the Sharks in their regular season series this year, posting a 3-2 record against San Jose (all except one of those games were a single goal difference however).
The Kings have made a name for themselves this regular season as the top defensive team, thanks in large part to the play of perhaps the best defensive forward in the league, Anze Kopitar. Not to mention the Kings’ overall disciplined approach to each game and their freakish penchant for blocking shots; allowing the 2nd lowest shots on goal this season.
The Kings also turned heads with their offensive abilities this season, or lack thereof. The Kings went through long bouts of scoring droughts this season, and ultimately ended the season with a measly 2.42 goals per game average, 26th in the league.
Between the pipes for the Kings is the starting goaltender for Team USA in the Olympics, Jonathan Quick, who despite a slow start to the season, appears to be getting his stride back as of late.
Like the Blues-Blackhawks series, this is a really difficult one to call. Both teams are very equally matched all up and down the stat sheet. Ultimately though, it’ll come down to whether the Sharks’ potent offense is able to crack the Kings’ stifling D. That said I’m going to have to err on the side of the old adage “offense wins games, defense wins championships.” Thus, I feel the Kings have an edge (albeit slight) in defense and goaltending that will ultimately make the difference, likely once again in a Game 7.
Sharks – Kings Broadcast Schedule
Thursday, April 17 10:30 p.m. at San Jose on NBCSN, CBC
Sunday, April 20 10 p.m. at San Jose on NBCSN, CBC
Tuesday, April 22 10 p.m. at Los Angeles on NBCSN, CBC
Thursday, April 24 10:30 at Los Angeles on NBCSN, CBC
*Saturday, April 26 TBD at San Jose on NBCSN, CBC
*Monday, April 28 TBD at Los Angeles on CBC
*Wednesday, April 30 TBD at San Jose on CBC