As the San Jose Sharks look to eliminate the Los Angeles Kings once and for all on Saturday night at the Shark Tank, there are many story lines in this already interesting and unexpectedly high-scoring series.
Here are the top 5 that you should keep track of while watching the Sharks in Game 5:
1. The Thornton – Burns Duo
As the Sharks scored 17 goals in the first three games and absolutely dominated the Kings in every category possible, the Joe Thornton-Brent Burns duo on the top line was controlling play and causing havoc everywhere possible. Coincidence? I don’t think so. In order to deal with the domination by the Burns line, Darryl Sutter opted to move his captain Dustin Brown to go up against the Sharks’ top line.
We’ve had trouble with the size of Burns and Thornton, quite honestly.
After watching Game 4, Sutter’s move seems to be genius, maybe even in the league of Todd McLellan’s decision to convert Burns to a forward. The Thornton-Burns line was kept at bay for the entire game and, as a result, the Kings skated to a 6-3 win. In the first three games of the series, Burns registered 20 hits and 16 shots, leading the team in both categories. Thornton, however, has contributed his veteran leadership, team-leading face-off percentage, and four takeaways to his name in Game 3.
Thornton and Burns in Game 4 were virtually ineffective and they both posted a combined -3 at Staples Center on Thursday night. For the Sharks to close out this series, Thornton and Burns will have to be on their game. These two players have an abundance of experience and skill and they aren’t known for not bouncing back after subpar performances.
2. Antti Niemi’s bounce back game
There is no way around it. Antti Niemi had a less than average performance in Game 4. After giving up five goals on 26 shots, McLellan chose to give Alex Stalock his first playoff ice time as cheers of “Niiiieeemmmii” rang out through the Staples Center crowd.
Niemi hasn’t been spectacular in this series thus far, but he hasn’t been needed because of the Sharks’ hot scoring streak. Game 4 proved to be a rude awakening for Niemi because the Sharks weren’t able to post 4+ goals.
Watch Niemi closely in Game 5 as he looks to keep the Kings off the board so that the Sharks have a chance to close out the series.
3. Sharks’ penalties
The Sharks didn’t look like their regular season selfs during Game 4. After being one of the least penalized teams in the NHL in the regular season, the Sharks allowed the Kings to have the man advantage five times and committed offsetting penalties that caused some of their impact players to be absent from the ice.
Although the Kings’ power-play is not great (27th in the league) it still gives them momentum that we know the Kings can cash in on.
4. Nastiness from game 4
Last, but definitely not least, comes the tempers that we saw towards the conclusion of game 4. These two teams hate each other.
The NorCal – SoCal rivalry pl two straight years of meeting in playoffs + Tomas Hertl injury by Dustin Brown = One huge rivalry with tempers about to boil over.
That is exactly what we have started to see, especially with the Sharks’ frustration in Game 4.
Do not expect these nasty confrontations and off-the-charts hit numbers to stop; they are only getting started.