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SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Kings fans had one question in cyberspace overnight: Would highly touted center prospect Brayden Schenn be called up to the NHL club after his junior club got eliminated from the WHL playoffs Wednesday night?
With top center Anze Kopitar out, it's a tantalizing thought. But the answer was no -- for now -- after Kings management mulled it over and decided to instead assign him to AHL Manchester. The thought is that it would be better for his development at this point.
"He's been assigned to Manchester and all that means is that he's available to us," Kings head coach Terry Murray said Thursday after the morning skate. "Hopefully he gets into some [AHL] games playing at that level and just continues with his career. If there's a need, we can have him available at any time."
Murray confirmed Justin Williams was returning for Game 1 after missing nearly four weeks with a shoulder injury. Murray is slotting Williams with Ryan Smyth and Jarret Stoll on the top line.
"It's a line that's been together for a bunch of games this year," Murray said. "They played very well actually for long stretches of the season. We'll get them back together again today."
Williams can't possibly be 100 percent, but he's gutting it out for his team.
"It's the playoffs, nobody is 100 percent," Williams said after the morning skate.
He's ready for the physical challenge, too.
"You're going to get hit, you're going to get bumped, everything is amped up and it's fun," Williams said. "I feel fine, I feel absolutely fine. They've got a big team, a physical team, I'm going to get hit and I know that. It's a fun place to play in San Jose and we're geared up."
Murray said Oscar Moller would come out of the Kings' lineup to make room for Williams.
These are Joe Thornton's first playoffs as Sharks captain. There's a sense of ownership that comes with that, knowing that he must lead the way.
"It's exciting. I know this is my team and I got to play well for this team to go on," Thornton said Thursday after the morning skate. "But it's a group effort, we all realize that and we've all done a good job all year. It's going to be a fun playoff."
Thornton expects a low-scoring, defensive series against the Kings, who without Kopitar will try to grind it out.
"Defense is going to win this series," said Thornton. "I think there's going to be a lot of 1-0, 2-1 games throughout the series. Whoever plays defense better is probably going to win this series."
Much like Shea Weber and Ryan Suter of the Predators went head to head with Anaheim's big offensive line featuring Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan, the top Kings defensive pairing of Drew Doughty and Willie Mitchell should likely see a lot of Thornton, Devin Setoguchi and Patrick Marleau in this series.
"Yeah I would think so," Doughty said Thursday after the morning skate. "Me and Mitchy have been assigned to shut down the top lines pretty much all season. So I'm sure it's going to be the same thing and I'm excited for the challenge. They're a great line, and we're a great D pairing. It's going to be a lot of fun."
San Jose's blue-line corps, in particular veteran star Dan Boyle, will be the target of a physical Kings forecheck. The hope from the Kings' point of view is to wear down the Sharks' blueliners as the series goes on with a punishing, physical game.
"It's nothing new ... go after other teams' top guys," Boyle said Thursday after the morning skate. "It's just a matter of being in their end a bit more than ours. And when they do put the puck into our end, the goalie can play it and if not, you try to make a quick play to avoid the big shots that wear you down a lot."
The Kings are underdogs, and that's a role Ryan Smyth has known all of his career going back to his Edmonton Oilers days.
"Yeah I've never had home-ice advantage," Captain Canada said Thursday morning. "I've never experienced that other side of it. But I just say, 'Hey, the pressure is on them. We'll just play our game.'
"If we're the underdogs, so be it, but we have a good hockey team in here and we believe in ourselves."
If should be noted that Smyth's Oilers upset Detroit in 2006 en route to the Cup finals, and upset top-seeded Dallas and Colorado in the late 1990s as well.
Sharks rookie Logan Couture, a candidate for the Calder Trophy this season, is one of the league's more active Twitter participants.
"It's fun, you interact with the fans and hear what they say to you," Couture said Thursday morning. "I read as many comments as I can. It's fun to interact with them."
Teammate Devin Setoguchi is also on Twitter, but dryly noted to us Thursday that he's given up trying to catch the young Couture in followers.
"Ha, he'll never catch me," Couture said laughing.
Watching the No. 8-seeded Rangers scare the No. 1 Caps on Wednesday night was a reminder, if the Sharks needed one, that anything can happen in the NHL playoffs in a league where parity has never been more true.
"We're very well aware of the fact any team can beat any team in this league," Dan Boyle said Thursday. "We know what's ahead of us."
It's also simply a great time of year, Boyle said.
"I believe it's my 13th year in the league and I still had the butterflies last night going to bed. Didn't sleep as much as I would have liked. It's the most exciting time of year to play. First year or 13th year, it's always exciting."
Kings head coach Terry Murray, unprovoked by media, suggested this might be a rough series.
"Everything I read from the San Jose players talking it's going to be a little bit of a gong show with fighting, I'm reading about Clowe and a bloody nose and Ben Eager all over the place and Mayers fighting, so we're going to gear ourselves up for that kind of a game," Murray said to puzzled faces in the media gathering.
Hence, Murray said he would keep rugged winger Kevin Westgarth in the lineup.
"That's the way they're setting it up," Murray said of the Sharks. "So we're going to be ready to battle."
OK then. Buckle up, friends.