Sharks and Kings Face Off in the Battle of California

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Updated: May 14, 2013
Kopitar Niemi

The Stanley Cup Champs against the Stanley Cup’s ‘always the bridesmaid never the bride’ – it’s the LA Kings vs San Jose Sharks in the battle of the best team on the left coast.

The Ducks were the dominant team heading into the playoffs, but they are out surfing right now and eating some In-’n-Out burgers thanks to some pesky Red Wings. The Kings and Sharks split their regular season match-up, but this time only one team can move on. So who is the best team in Cali?

By the way, who said California is not a hockey market?

The LA Kings have always, in my eyes, underachieved massively every year, until that is they came together and rolled through the playoffs to win the Stanley Cup last year. This manifesto was surprising, though really it shouldn’t be. Most of us knew the Kings were (are) a very good team and they just finally played like one.

That was last year, and this year they struggled a bit again. Dropping the first two games to St.Louis must have been some sort of a wake-up call, most pundits will shout. The truth is that every single game against St.Louis was tight and could have completely done an about-face. The champs held it together though, scoring timely goals and getting that Conn Smythe-type goaltending from Quick. The series proved that the Kings are not a team you can bully, out hit, and ultimately out score. They may have been battered and bruised, but winning tough games in tough situations gives you character and a bit of tough skin never hurt anyone in the playoffs.

The Sharks on the other hand seemed to breeze through the once mighty Vancouver Canucks. The big boys showed up for the Sharks as Couture, Marleau, and Pavelski scored some big goals. They broke the Canucks’ will and while the goaltending tandem, which is probably worth around 10 million plus on the free agent market, tried its best the goals kept on coming.

The Sharks rolled their big centers for over 20 minutes a game. Pavelski, Couture, Thornton, and Marleau all averaged over 20 minutes a game, even if they did spend some of those minutes playing the wing. This paid off in spades as all four are fairly good defensively and can really cycle the puck down low, preventing the Sedins from doing any damage. I always say that to win the Stanley Cup you need four good centers.

The problem with Sharks is that they might not be ready or simply not built strongly enough to get past the Kings. The Kings have a line-up of players who do not just possess skill, but are able to impose their will on their opponents via physical hitting and relentless forecheck. Do not be taken in, LA Kings are no Canucks and will not be runover.

Joe Thornton and Dustin Brown will clash and it will be glorious. Brown has been pretty much labeled as the dirtiest player still playing hockey right now and big Joe has been the punch line to a quite a bit of playoff hockey jokes. You saw emotional pain in Joe last Spring as his team lost out on another chance to get to the Cup final. If there was ever a motivated man, Joe Thornton is him.

The edge in offensive skill in my eyes goes to LA Kings and so does the advantage on the back-end. I really am in love with Slava Voynov and his style. He has that instinct to go in for the kill and has an amazing talent to play proper body position in the defensive end. I really feel that he is potentially a bigger offensive threat than Doughty and even Boyle in this series as those two will be too busy dealing with Coutures and Browns.

X-Factor?

Antti Niemi is the X-Factor in this series. Both goalies have a cup, but one guy did it just last year and has been playing very well. We know Quick, we remember him. Niemi got sort of lost in the West coast somewhere and was completely outshined by the Canucks’ goaltending debacle to even hear his name mentioned in the last series. I am here to tell you that he will be the difference maker. Very brave of me, huh? Naming a goaltender an X-Factor, but it is what it is. Niemi will have to be better than fantastic and deliver the type of games that have carried the Sharks when their offense shat the bed sometime in February.

Quick and Niemi probably have different kinds of pressure. I know the Kings won last year and I know they might not have the same hunger that the Sharks have. But I still will give this one to the Kings. They have a much more complete team that can roll four lines of pain. The goaltending should be a wash, unless Niemi can steal a game or two, but Anze Kopitar has been very timid and he will come alive in this series. Even though they split their regular season match-up (2 – 2), I see the Kings taking this in 6.

Let’s check in with our other writers at LWOS:

Ben Kerr: After two losses in OT to start the series, LA got their act together and won four straight against the Blues. Meanwhile the Sharks steamrolled the Canucks. In this matchup I think the Sharks are due for their annual spring disappearing act, and I can’t bet against the Kings given what I’ve seen out of them last year. Kings in 6.

Mitch Tierney: Sharks have shown real determination so far this playoffs. They know with the currrent group this could be their last shot. The Kings on the other hand have been here before. But don’t expect that to slow them any. Blues were a bigger test than Sharks will be. Kings in 6.

Russell McKenzie The Sharks look to finally be making the right plays at the right time. In this SoCal v NoCal matchup, look for blood on the ice and pucks in the net. Sharks in 7.

TUESDAY, MAY 14, 2013 10 P.M. SAN JOSE AT LOS ANGELES NBCSN, TSN
THURSDAY, MAY 16, 2013 10 P.M. SAN JOSE AT LOS ANGELES NBCSN, TSN
SATURDAY, MAY 18, 2013 9 P.M. LOS ANGELES AT SAN JOSE NBCSN, TSN
TUESDAY, MAY 21, 2013 10 P.M. LOS ANGELES AT SAN JOSE NBCSN, TSN
*THURSDAY, MAY 23, 2013 10:30 P.M. SAN JOSE AT LOS ANGELES NBCSN, TSN
*SUNDAY, MAY 26, 2013 TBD LOS ANGELES AT SAN JOSE TSN
*TUESDAY, MAY 28, 2013 TBD SAN JOSE AT LOS ANGELES TSN

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