When the San Jose Sharks and the Los Angeles Kings meet for game one on Thursday at HP Pavilion, it will be the first time in 20 years that the two Western-conference rivals will meet in a playoff series.
It also marks the first time that the three California teams including the Anaheim Ducks made the trip in the same campaign.
San Jose and Los Angeles have made the play-off cut only five times in the same season until now.
The seventh-seed Los Angeles Kings enter the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs with very little expectations. The Kings, who finished the season with 98 points just one point behind the fourth-seeded Anaheim Ducks, begin their journey against their state and division rivals San Jose Sharks on Thursday night.
Los Angeles (45-30-6) went 3-3 versus the Pacific division champion Sharks (48-25-9) during the regular season. In the six matchups in regulation, San Jose scored six goals twice with Patrick Marleau, Devin Setoguchi and Joe Pavelski each scoring three times.
The Kings will be hard pressed to keep pace with the high-octane offence that San Jose possesses. With 37 goals and 73 points this season, Patrick Marleau is San Jose’s top scorer followed by captain Joe Thornton with 21 goals and 70 points. Joe Pavelski comes third with 20 goals and 66 points.
On the other hand, the kings will be without leading scorer Anze Kopitar, who is out for the remainder of the season. He had 25 goals and 48 assists in 75 games before tearing ligaments in his ankle last month.
Another injury concern for Los Angeles is that of second-leading scorer Justin Williams. Williams had 22 goals and 35 assists in 73 games for the Kings before dislocating his shoulder.
However, Williams, who missed the final nine games of the season, is expected to return for the beginning of the playoffs after going through drills to test the level of pain he can endure on his shoulder with the protection of a harness.
“Overall, it felt better than yesterday, and I hope it feels better tomorrow,” he told the Canadian Press at the Kings’ training complex.
“A lot of my game is shaking off checks, and if I can’t do that, my impact goes down drastically. [The harness] isn’t comfortable, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”
Los Angeles will be looking to expand on the playoff experience they gained last year in a six-game first-round lost to the Vancouver Canucks after a lengthy post-season absence. To accomplish any type of success against a perennial contender in the Sharks, coach Terry Murray will hope that his team will adhere to the defensive approach that has served them well throughout the season.
The Kings will be expecting standout performances from their star defencemen Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson. Doughty, who has suffered a slight dip in form compared to his previous season, is still considered one of the top young blue-liners in the game and is capable of being a force on any given night.
Los Angeles will also be expecting goalies Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier to maintain their stellar play in front of net. Quick the unequivocal first choice goaltender is coming off a great season where his record was 35-22 with a 2.24 GAA and a .918 save percentage.
In order to have any possibility of an upset, the offence will have to step up for the Kings. Los Angeles dwelled at the bottom of the league in scoring even when healthy so timely scoring is crucial to any success they will have.
Captain Dustin Brown (28 goals and 29 assists) and the newly acquired Dustin Penner who has 23 goals this season but only two since joining the team will be relied upon heavily to step up during their post-season run.
The key for the Sharks is on the man advantage. San Jose ranks second in the NHL on the power play, and its special teams will play a critical role against the Kings being the fourth best penalty killing club. The Sharks will have to rely on their power play to get past the Kings’ goaltender and strong units.
This geographical rivalry will be a battle, but the Sharks just might have to much bite for the Kings.
Andrew – Sharks in six
Claudia – Sharks in six
T.J. – Sharks in five