My Two Cents for May 14th:
So We Meet Again- The San Jose Sharks and the Los Angeles Kings, two teams separated geographically by 395 miles. Two teams that have always brought out the best in one another. Two teams who have been competitive with one another since the Sharks joined the NHL 1991. And now, these two teams will meet again. This time, the Sharks and Kings will do battle in the second round of this season’s Stanley Cup playoffs. Two years ago, the Sharks defeated the Kings in six games in the Quarter Final Round of the 2011 post season. Last year the two teams fortunes were completely the opposite of one another. The Sharks as the seventh seed were routed in the first round of the 2012 post season by the St Louis Blues. Meanwhile, all the Los Angeles Kings did was qualify as the eighth seeded team in the Western Conference on the last day of the season. After that, they only would go on to one of the most phenomenal runs in league history going 16-3 and winning their first ever Stanley Cup in their franchises 45th season. The Sharks come into to this matchup looking for their first ever Stanley Cup and/or finals appearance. The Kings come into this matchup as the defending champion looking to be the first team to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions since the Detroit Red Wings did it in the late 1990′s. The big question for the San Jose Sharks coming into the second round is do they have what it takes to dethrone the defending champion Kings? Do the Kings have enough to deal with the Sharks? Lots of questions will be answered within the next 10 to 14 days, and the Sharks almost certainly will see if they are finally a team that can legitimately eye the Cup in their future. If the Sharks wanted a challenge with the Kings they will certainly have one and have their hands full throughout the entire series.
What Sharks Bring to Table- The Sharks veterans have been through enough playoff runs now to know what it’s all about and what to expect to a certain degree. Looking at the forwards, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski have come along far enough where they have become every bit as potent as Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton. Couture is clearly the future face and leader of the franchise as he is the one man the Sharks can go to for that goal when they absolutely need to have it. Pavelski also has become a huge presence on the ice and not only has the ability to score, but is able to wrestle away a puck from any opponent. Brent Burns, having been moved from defenseman to forward, has shown he can also get the puck in the net in addition to being a strong defenseman. Ofcourse, Marleau and Thornton are still very much factors when the post season comes around. They both understand the levels in which their games have to rise up to and are two players who can meet this challenge head on. Raffi Torres has been nothing short of a difference maker since coming over to the Sharks at the trade deadline from Phoenix. He can put the puck in the net and is able to lead on the ice when called upon to do so. Torres may still have the tough guy image and will keep that, however he is shown that he is more interested in contributing to a teams ultimate success since coming to the Sharks and has made very few trips to the penalty box. Martin Havlat is questionable for the second round however if he can get back at some point it would only give the Sharks an additional weapon they will need offensively.
Looking at the defenseman in addition to Burns, Dan Boyle, Brad Stuart, Scott Hannan lead a veteran group who also despite their mileage are very familiar with the stakes at this time of year. In the Vancouver series the Sharks had six defenseman who averaged at least one point for the series. Justin Braun arguably did not have his best series versus the Canucks but given the opportunity he can raise his level of play and will certainly have the opportunity. Matt Irwin, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Jason Demers have made some solid contributions to get the Sharks to where they are now and look to continue that versus the Kings.
The penalty kill has been one of the Sharks strongest suits and will need to remain that versus the Kings. LA’s lineup of players who are top heavy with goal scorers can make two minutes in the penalty box seem like an eternity. The Sharks power play fared well against the Canucks but will have bigger challenge against a strong Kings penalty killing unit which shut down the Blues in the just completed first round.
In goal for the Sharks ofcourse is Antti Niemi who without qualification is the team’s MVP. Niemi is a good portion of the reason the Sharks are playing right now. Against Vancouver Niemi certainly had to deal with a good number of Canucks scoring chances. Things will certainly be tougher as the Kings have a roster that Niemi despite being familiar with can still give him or any other goalie in the league a rough night. However, Niemi also has a ton of playoff experience and like the members of the Kings knows what winning the Cup is all about having done so in Chicago three years ago. If Niemi raises his game, he is every bit the equal of his counterpart Jonathan Quick.
What The Kings Bring to the Table- The Los Angeles Kings bring plenty to the table on top of their quest to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions. Virtually every player on the Kings roster was there a year ago for their tour to NHL glory. The Kings did not win the Cup by accident, they were (IMHO only) far better than their seeding. The Kings are still a better team than their seeding this season too. The Kings man for man know how to win big games and what it takes to get to the pinnacle. That’s experience you simply can’t get unless you’ve been to the top. Needless to say, the Kings would love to do it all over again.
As for their forwards, it’s almost a game of “pick your poison” if you are the opponent. Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Justin Williams, Mike Richards, Dwight King. Each one of those players just mentioned can beat a goalie from anywhere on the ice. They are that good. The Sharks will have their hands full keeping this group in check. Many of the Kings’ forwards after a few rough games versus the Blues started to come around in Game 4. Once they finally did, the Kings simply never looked back and rolled St Louis. Dustin Penner, a veteran of two Stanley Cup Champions is another player the Sharks must defend as his game is now starting to pick up. Throw in Jarret Stoll, Trevor Lewis and Kyle Clifford for good measure, and you realize the Sharks indeed will have their hands full from the first puck drop of Game 1.
Defensively, the Kings are led by Drew Doughty, Rob Scuderi, Alec Martinez, Slava Voynov and Jake Muzzin lead a group that are drawn to the puck like a magnet. They don’t just look to see where the puck is or where it’s going, they all throw themselves right in the middle of the fray and are never afraid to mix up at anytime. This group does not run from the pressure, they run towards it and create their own. Out of that group, the player that seems the most dangerous besides Doughty is Voynov who has been nothing sort of a difference maker for the Kings. Voynov has scored goals which have changed games into the Kings favor more often than not and must be accounted for at all times.
In goal for the Kings, Jonathan Quick. All Quick has done in the last three seasons is go from a goalie who gave up a series winning goal versus the Sharks two seasons ago, to the next season became a Stanley Cup Champion netmider and arguably one of the best goalies in the game today. Quick has already been there an done that in his short time in the league and in many ways his career mirrors Niemi of the Sharks. Both Niemi and Quick became champion netminders early in their careers and are about as dependable as any goalie out there today. This will be a key match up as both goalies can keep the opponent off of the scoreboard for a long period of time when they are on top of their game.
Coaching- The coaching matchup here is as even as it gets. The Sharks are led ofcourse by Head Coach Todd McLellan who is now the Sharks winningest all time Head Coach. McLellan is regarded thoughout the league as a master strategist who learned on the bench of Red Wings Head Coach Mike Babcock how to get the best of each player at each position, each and every shift. The Kings are lead by former Sharks Head Coach Darryl Sutter who’s no-nonsense approach is what they doctor ordered for a Kings team who many forget last season got off to a slow start. Sutter came in, took the roster he had and built it into a team that would go on to shock the hockey world. Sutter knows how to win and knows an opponent as well as he knows his own team. Sutter on the other bench means the opposing coach had better have one heck of a game plan ready otherwise he just may get quietly schooled by one of the NHL’s best.
Schedule- The Sharks and Kings will get down to business right away starting with Game One Tuesday Night (May 14th) at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. All the games will be carried in the USA on the NBC Sports Networks, and either TSN or CBC in Canada. Don’t bother with NHL GameCenter or Centre Ice, Gary Bettman shuts that down once the regular season ends. The puck drop for Game One Tuesday Night in 7pm Pacific Time.
As for the rest of the Schedule, here’s how it shapes up:
Game 2 @ Los Angeles Thursday May 16th 7pm PT
Game 3 @ Shark Tank Saturday May 18th 6pm PT
Game 4 @ Shark Tank Tuesday May 21st 7pm PT
Game 5 @ Los Angeles Thursday May 23rd 7:30pm PT*
Game 6 @ Shark Tank Sunday May 26th TBD*
Game 7 @ Los Angeles Tuesday May 28th TBD*
(*-if necessary, TBD-To Be Determined)
Detroit vs Chicago- In the Western Conference, aside from the Sharks versus the Kings, the Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks will face off in an original six match up. The seventh seeded Red Wings defeated the second seed Anaheim Ducks in seven games to advance to the Conference Semi-Finals. The Blackhawks meanwhile had almost no trouble dispatching the decidedly outmatched Minnesota Wild in five games. The Blackhawks are looking for their second Stanley Cup in a four year span while the Red Wings are looking for their 12th title in franchise history (second only to the Montreal Canadians). The Blackhawks are loaded and hungry for another title and are led by the usual suspects of Jonathan Towes, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and a strong supporting cast. Joey Crawford has been strong in net all season for Chicago and is more than up for the challenges which lie ahead. The Red Wings are comprised of a roster that just a few seasons ago could have virtually been their own all-star team. Pavel Datsyuk is still lighting the lamp with moves that only he can make. Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, along with Justin Abdelkater and Damien Brunner lead a line up that is mixed with veteran leadership (which has seen more big games than they can remember) along with a mixture of youth that has been a strong backbone for Detroit. Jimmy Howard had a rough early series versus Anaheim but got the team to Game 7 and then turned in his best game of the series at the right time. Kingshark Line: Blackhawks in 6.
Eastern Confrerence- The Eastern Conference will feature a classic original six matchup, as well as a matchup of a top seed versus a very hungry underdog….
Ottawa vs Pittsburgh- The top seeded Pittsburgh Penguins will begin their second round series against the surprising Ottawa Senators Tuesday Night in the Steel City. This will be the fourth time in seven seasons that the Penguins and Senators have faced each other in the post season. The Penguins in their first round win over the New York Islanders got contributions from a number of players not named Sidney Crosby. Pascal Dupuis, Evegeni Malkin, and former Duck Chris Kunitz have led an attack that has been as lethal as any in the NHL. Despite his struggles in the net, Marc-Andre Fleury has the post season experience not to mention a Stanley Cup on his resume. The Penguins also have one of the best backup netmiders in Tomas Vokoun. The Senators are lead by veterans Daniel Alfredsson, Erik Karlsson as well as Chris Neil and Cory Conacher. Ottawa dispensed their in Provence rival Montreal in five games, winning three of the five with almost ridiculous ease. Veteran goalie Craig Anderson over the past several seasons has arguably been one of the ten best goalies in the NHL. The Penguins just as they were against the New York Islanders will need to be on top of their game as the Senators are one team who has realized they are very good at playing with house money. Just ask the Montreal Canadians. Kingshark Line: Penguins in 7.
New York Rangers vs Boston- A classic rivalry that started long before most of our grandparents were even born. Anything that involves New York and Boston is a rivalry. Yankees-Red Sox, Patriots-Jets or Giants, Celtics-Knicks, and just 222 miles between the two cities (same distance as from San Jose to Reno, NV). The Rangers and Bruins are getting ready to write another chapter into their long storied rivalry. Rick Nash, Brad Richards, Ryan Callahan, Derick Brassard and others will lead the Rangers who are seeking their first title in 19 years. Henrik Lundqvist has caught fire, pitching shutouts in the final two games against the Washington Capitals. The Bruins, two years removed from winning the Stanley Cup, and having just defeated in the Toronto Maple Leafs in an emotionally draining seven game series will be ready for the challenge which starts Wendesday (May 15th). Boston is loaded with some of the best players hockey has to offer with Nathan Horton, Milan Lucic, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand and Zdeno Chara. Having won a Cup within the last two years, and being taken beyond the limit by Toronto, this team knows there is nothing they cannot withstand. Tuukka Rask admittedly is not entering this playoff series hot, but he can be as tough as anyone the Rangers will face if he finds his game. Kingshark Line: Bruins in 7.
Sharks vs Kings: Kingshark Line- The Sharks will have to be at their absolute best and be able to bring it to the rink every night. Playing the Kings demands the Sharks be able to raise their game to the highest of levels, especially in a post season scenario. The one thing the Sharks have going for them is that they knowingly are the underdog and expect nothing less. The Sharks have only earned luke warm respect at best this post season which is understandable because of the Sharks post season failures of the past. However, the Sharks as Vancouver found out are a very dangerous team when their backs are against the wall which is also how the Sharks have approached the post season. Coming into this series, as good as the Kings are (and they are very good, trust me), this will bring out the best in the Sharks because they too understand what is at stake. The Sharks are the team with very little to lose here and everything to gain. The Kings on the other hand have the pressure that comes with the crown. Never under estimate the heart of a champion (go ask the St Louis Blues). However, that champion had better not be caught under estimating the opponent either. A team with nothing to lose and everything to gain can be the toughest match of all for any defending champion. The Sharks have the team that can more than give the Kings a tough time. They have in the past. Kingshark Line Prediction: Sharks in 7. LA is much better than Vancouver. The Sharks know this, and they’ll be ready for it too.
…Just My Two Cents…
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