3 Rounds is a three-part series. Writers select what they feel is the most important individual match-up in the upcoming playoff series and give it an in-depth preview. The second piece is a mid-series assessment of that match-up. In the final installment, we analyze how the match-up contributed to the outcome of the series. If our match-up isn’t the difference-maker, we’ll explore the match-up that DID make the difference.
It’s not often you find two cup contenders matching up in the first round but here we are. The Los Angeles Kings, 2012 champs and darlings of advanced stats nerds are set to take on the San Jose Sharks, the perennial post-season underachievers, once again leaving the hockey world wondering if this is their year. Its Kings versus Sharks, let’s get to it.
The Sharks finished 2nd in the Pacific division with 111 points, 11 more than the 3rd place Kings. Neither team finished the season white hot, with both teams having won five of their last ten. The Sharks were led in points by Joe Pavelski (79), but also had Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau reach the 70-point plateau. Keep an eye on Logan Couture, a star when he’s healthy, as he put up 54 points in 65 games this season.
The Kings are a team that’s been known to struggle scoring at times, but they are consistently one of the best-ranked possession teams in the league. Anze Kopitar, their leading scorer leads a very deep group of forwards. Deadline acquisition Marian Gaborik can be one of the league’s most explosive scorers, and don’t forget about the potential contributions from superstar Drew Doughty, if he’s playing.
The Sharks are pretty much entirely healthy, with both Raffi Torres (one of the league’s more effective enforcers) and Bracken Kearns both expected to be ready for game 1. Adam Burish is out indefinitely, although that’s not much of a loss.
The Kings might be missing their best defenceman in Drew Doughty, as he recovers from a bruised shoulder. If he is unable to play or if he is hampered by the shoulder, it could be a big blow to the Kings back end.
If the Sharks want to win, they better hope that their goaltending steps up in ways in hasn’t necessarily done in years past. While the Kings have one of the world’s best goalies in Jonathan Quick (.929 career playoff save percentage), the Sharks will most likely rely on Antti Niemi, who’s had his ups and downs (.909 save percentage) in the playoffs since breaking into the league with the Chicago Blackhawks. Unless of course, Sharks coach Todd McLellan chooses Alex Stalock, although it seems unlikely.
Notable YouTube Video (For Sharks Fans):
How about this four-goal comeback in game three of the 2011 Western Conference Quarterfinals. The Sharks would go on to win the series in six games.
Notable YouTube Video (For Kings Fans):
Probably still fresh in the minds of both Kings and Sharks fans, here’s a look at last year’s game seven between the two teams. This was in the second round, and the home team won every game.
Last year the home team won every game and I’m thinking home ice advantage will play a big part in separating these two talented, tough teams once again.
Sharks in 7.
Series Predictions From Our Hockey Department:
Max Vasilyev (93% correct last year): Kings in five games.
Mitchell Tierney (64% correct last year): Kings in six games.
Ben Kerr (57% correct last year): Sharks in seven games.
Russell McKenzie (57% correct last year): Sharks in six games.
Aaron Wrotkowski: Kings in seven games.
Ken Hill: Kings in seven games.
Charlie Clarke: Kings in seven games.
Shawn Wilken: Kings in seven games.
Dan Rocchi: Kings in six games.
Cristiano Simonetta: Kings in six games.
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