Second-round preview: Sharks-Kings
Since then, the Kings have won five straight series, capturing the Stanley Cup last spring and earning a hard-fought opening-round win over the St. Louis Blues this year.
That 2011 first-round series, which the Sharks won in six games, was the first time the two California clubs had met in the postseason.
But that was a more inexperienced Kings team that wasn't yet coached by Darryl Sutter and certainly hadn't yet achieved the kind of glory the Sharks have been trying to achieve for a decade.
The clubs split their four regular-season games. This is going to be a heck of a series.
1. Rested Sharks/battered Kings
The Sharks haven't played since May 7, when they completed an impressive four-game sweep of the Vancouver Canucks. Too much rest can be dangerous if a team loses its edge. Sharks coach Todd McLellan told reporters Sunday that his players were getting antsy. Still, the reality is if you're going to have a long playoff run, you normally need at least one (if not two) short series along the way to rest up those battered bodies.
The Kings eliminated the Blues on Saturday in Game 6 in what was an incredibly physical series, as both teams combined for 479 hits. It hurt just watching. The Blues bent the Kings badly, but they could not break them.
You wonder how much of a physical toll that series took on the Kings -- although avoiding a seventh game was huge.
No question which club has the fresher legs to start this series.
2. Goalie duel
The Sharks and Kings will have to earn their goals against netminders coming off sensational first rounds. Jonathan Quick, last year's Conn Smythe Trophy winner, was superb in stopping 167 of 177 shots versus the Blues for a .944 save percentage, and he was the difference because St. Louis had better scoring chances throughout the series. San Jose's Antti Niemi, nominated for the Vezina Trophy after a terrific regular season, stopped 118 of 126 shots versus Vancouver for a .937 save percentage.
Both goalies are dialed in.
3. Kings with home ice
Somewhat incredibly, the Kings have home-ice advantage in a playoff series for the first time since 1992, having opened their past 16 series on the road. In beating the Blues last round, the Kings became the first team to win five consecutive playoff series when opening on the road.
It's never a bad thing to have home-ice advantage, but it's interesting for this Kings team because it feeds off the energy/mentality of stealing a game or two to start the series on the road and then riding that momentum as the series shifts to L.A. Last spring, they won both opening games on the road in all four series en route to the Cup. This year, they lost Games 1 and 2 in St. Louis before coming back and winning four straight.
The Kings have won 10 straight games at home, counting the regular season, so they're definitely cooking at Staples Center right now.
4. Lombardi/Sutter and San Jose
I doubt the Kings' GM or coach want to talk about it much, but there are obvious and deep connections to the Sharks' franchise for both. Dean Lombardi was GM in San Jose from 1996-97 through 2002-03, and Sutter was the Sharks coach from 1997-2002. Their time together in San Jose is what forged their bond as hockey men who think alike, and it's why, when Lombardi's job was on the line last season, he rescued the Kings' season by hiring Sutter as coach.
Now the Sharks' former GM and coach are out to eliminate their former team.
5. Can the Sharks finish better than the Blues?
If the Blues could only finish ... I can't tell you how many St. Louis fans voiced that lament to me in the wake of their team's six-game loss to the Kings.
And certainly, the Blues had more scoring chances in the series than L.A., but they either were stonewalled by Quick or didn't have the offensive polish to finish.
What worked really well for the Sharks in the opening round was their balanced offense, with Couture, Thornton and Pavelski centering different lines. That's three lines that can score, and it's tough to defend against.
Give a lot of credit to Sharks coach Todd McLellan for having the audacity in March to move Burns from the blue line to the forward corps. Burns has responded in kind and the move has transformed the Sharks' offense. That's great coaching.
What's also interesting is that in Round 1, Vancouver still focused on Thornton and his line with T.J. Galiardi and Burns as the top unit to match up with in terms of the Canucks' top defense pairing, etc. You could argue Couture's line, with Marleau and Raffi Torres, was actually the one the Canucks should have gone after, matchup-wise.
Either way, the Kings -- with Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards as their one-two punch at center -- will match up with Couture and Thornton. The question is, who does Kings defenseman Drew Doughty get? Couture or Thornton?
• The Kings' health concerns me after what the Blues took out of them, but they seem to have their championship swagger back. The Sharks will give these guys a heck of a series, but ... Kings in 7.