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Stanley Cup Playoff Preview - San Jose vs. Los Angeles
By Michael Rushton, NHL Contributing Editor
SAN JOSE SHARKS
REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 51-22-9 (2nd Place - Pacific)
2013 PLAYOFFS: Defeated Vancouver 4-0 in conference quarterfinals, lost to Los Angeles 4-3 in conference semifinals
(SportsNetwork.com) - The San Jose Sharks will have a ton of familiar faces as they prepare for their 10th straight postseason appearance.
And while it is a core that has helped the Sharks continue a postseason run that began following a playoff-less 2002-03 campaign, it is also one that failed to advance out of consecutive conference finals appearances in 2010-11.
Still, it is tough to count out a club that rolls out top lines that consist of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, and Brent Burns while also being able to mix in promising rookie Tomas Hertl, the solid Tommy Wingels and the talented but inconsistent forward Marty Havlat.
Pavelski put together a 41-goal campaign, becoming just the fourth 40-goal scorer in Sharks history. He joins teammate Marleau, who had 33 goals and was second on the club with 70 points, finishing behind Pavelski (79 points) and Thornton (76 pts).
Thornton finished second in the NHL with 65 assists, but netted just 11 goals. That was just fine with San Jose as Couture and Burns were able to surpass the 20-goal mark, while Wingels had 16.
Then there is Hertl, who came out of the gate flying with 15 goals and 25 points in 35 games before suffering a knee injury against these same Kings on Dec. 19. He returned to action for the final two regular-season games and could make himself a presence in San Jose's top-six by series end.
Marleau has posted 57 goals and 96 points in 140 career playoff games, while Thornton has logged 75 assists 97 points in 125 games. The two have combined for 17 points in 13 previous playoff games versus the Kings.
The Sharks were fifth in the NHL with just 2.35 goals against per game and have the benefit of having six defenders coach Todd McLellan feels comfortable rolling out.
Veteran Dan Boyle remains an offensive threat from the blue line, having posted 12 goals and 36 points in 75 games. Half of those points came on the power play, while Jason Demers chipped in with 34 points in 75 games.
Boyle's presence on the power play helped him lead Sharks defensemen with 21 minutes and 16 seconds of ice time per game, but it was Marc-Edouard Vlasic who was the top two-way defender. He logged 24 points and was a plus-31.
Matt Irwin also can contribute some offense, while Justin Braun and Brad Stuart are steady defenders.
Goaltender Antti Niemi won a Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010, but was less impressive in his first two appearances in the playoffs with the Sharks before a solid run in 2013. Niemi went 7-4 with a 1.87 goals against average and .930 save percentage as the Sharks swept their first-round series before a tight seven-game loss to the Kings.
Niemi has had his struggles down the stretch this season, perhaps the result of having played in 64 games, and he'll have backup Alex Stalock hovering over his shoulder.
While Niemi was 39-17-7 with a 2.39 GAA and .913 save percentage in 64 starts, Stalock put up impressive numbers in 24 games (18 starts), going 12-5-2 with a 1.87 GAA and .932 save percentage.
LOS ANGELES KINGS
REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 46-28-8 (3rd Place - Pacific)
2013 PLAYOFFS: Defeated St. Louis 4-2 in conference quarterfinals, defeated San Jose 4-3 in conference semifinals, lost to Chicago 4-1 in conference finals
If the old adage "defense wins championships" holds water in 2014, then the Los Angeles Kings stand a good chance of bringing home their second Stanley Cup title in three years.
The Kings claimed the William M. Jennings Trophy for giving up the fewest goals this season at 174. That number dips to a club-record 168 when shootout tallies are excluded.
It all starts with Jonathan Quick, who will be the sole name on the Jennings Trophy as he was the lone goaltender to play in a minimum of 25 games this season with the Kings. Quick, though, appeared in just 49 games due to a groin injury suffered in November that held him out for 24 contests.
But he still managed to star at the 2014 Winter Olympics and posted a mark of 27-17-4 with a 2.07 goals against average and .915 save percentage. He also posted six of Los Angeles' single-season record 13 shutouts.
Quick may have been able to post a few more victories if the Kings hadn't finished 26th in the NHL with just 2.42 goals per game.
While Quick is one of the top netminders in the league, the Kings have also built a solid defensive grouping. That unit is led by Drew Doughty, who paced Los Angeles' blueliners with 37 points in 78 games.
Doughty did sit out the final four games of the regular season with a bruised left shoulder, but should be ready for the playoffs.
Only Alec Martinez's career-best 11 goals surpassed Doughty among L.A. defenseman and 24-year-old Slava Voynov is another big-time contributor from the blue line, having amassed 30 assists while playing all 82 games.
The rest of the Kings' defensive skaters are built to wear teams down, including Robyn Regehr, Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene.
Jake Muzzin is another threat of offense from the back end, but is prone to making mistakes.
The defense doesn't stop the blue line with forwards Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards and Dustin Brown all solid two-way players. But Kopitar also is one of the Kings' top-scoring threats and he reached the 70-point mark for the fourth time in his career after notching 29 goals and 41 assists.
Jeff Carter has a deadly shot and notched 27 goals in 72 games, while Justin Williams remains an underrated veteran with 19 goals and 43 points. Dwight King (15 goals) and Tyler Toffoli (12 goals) add depth.
The Kings hope that Marian Gaborik is ready to get hot come playoff time. Gaborik has struggled to stay healthy and produce over the past season and a half, but Los Angeles still took a chance and acquired him at the trade deadline. The winger totaled 16 points in 19 games with the Kings, including three goals and 12 points in his final 10 games.
The concern is with Richards and Brown, who are both coming off disappointing regular seasons. Richards had just 11 goals and 41 points in 82 games, but has gone scoreless in nine straight and without an assist in 22 consecutive contests.
Brown, the club's captain, had posted five straight 20-goal seasons before coming through with 18 in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign, but notched only 15 goals and 27 points in 79 games this season.
Richards has managed 77 points in 98 career playoff games, while Carter has 27 goals in 85 games.
Quick has a career playoff line of 29-21 with a 2.03 GAA, .929 save percentage and seven shutouts.
This marks the third all-time playoff meeting between these clubs and second in a row. The Kings gutted out a low-scoring seven-game victory in last season's second round, one that left the franchise spent ahead of a five-game loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in the conference finals.
San Jose defeated L.A. in six games in the 2011 quarterfinals.
The division rivals played a close five-game season series in 2013-14, with the Kings owning a 3-1-1 edge. The teams combined for just 21 goals and skated in four games decided by a single goal.
Quick won both of his games this season versus the Sharks, giving up just three goals, and is 11-4-5 versus them in the regular season lifetime as well as 6-7 in the playoffs with a 2.25 GAA and three shutouts.
Niemi went 2-1-1 with a 2.67 GAA in this season's series, while Stalock lost his only start despite giving up just one goal. Niemi is 6-6 in the playoffs against the Kings with a 2.74 GAA and .897 save percentage.
Kopitar, Carter and Doughty all scored twice in the season series and Carter also notched two assists, while Pavelski had three goals in five meetings.
This series shapes up to be very similar to last season's encounter and that could favor the Kings even without home-ice advantage. Los Angeles is build to wear down opponents top lines, so San Jose will need to get depth scoring.
The Kings had success this season despite struggles on offense, but two of those disappointing skaters -- Richards and Brown -- are wired for playoff hockey and could break out. Gaborik is also an X-factor in this series.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Kings in 7
04/15 14:54:57 ET