(5) Los Angeles Kings vs. (6) San Jose Sharks
Season series: 2-1-1 Kings
They have a history: For just the fourth time ever, two teams from California will face off in a playoff setting. It will be the second time the Kings and Sharks have met in the playoffs. In 2011, San Jose ousted Los Angeles in six games in the first round. The most memorable contest of that series was Game 3, when San Jose overcame a 4-0 deficit to win 6-5 in overtime.
For the Kings to win: The Kings will be out of their comfort zone, if you will, as they will have home-ice advantage in a playoff series for the first time since 1992 (16 consecutive series as lower seed). They have a lot of momentum they can carry over from their series win against St. Louis, as they won four straight after going down 0-2. Jonathan Quick recovered from a couple tough losses, and the Kings will need his great play to continue against a Sharks team that fired on all cylinders against Vancouver. Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar must step up offensively, too, as they combined for just two goals against St. Louis. If the Kings start getting more out of their two best forwards from last spring’s Cup run, look out.
For the Sharks to win: Joe Thornton and company will have had a whole week off before the start of this series, whereas the Kings gained steam late in a six-game series win over St. Louis. The quicker San Jose can shake off any rust from the layoff, the more it will benefit them. It’s hard to find many things the Sharks did wrong against Vancouver, yet it’s hard to imagine all of those things going their way again here against the defending champs. They can’t let Jeff Carter get hot offensively; when he has scored a playoff goal for the Kings, the team is 7-0. If Antti Niemi can find a way to outduel Quick, San Jose could well clinch its third-ever conference finals appearance.
Matchup to watch: Sharks power play vs. Kings penalty kill. San Jose’s man advantage scored seven of the team’s 15 goals in the first round, while Los Angeles’ penalty kill is 35-for-38 (92.1%) since April 9th. This matchup is more important for the Kings, as they have to force the Sharks to produce offense at even strength.
Big question: Eight of the last nine Stanley Cup champions have failed to advance beyond the second round the following season. Can the Kings break that trend and continue their pursuit of a repeat?
Best bet: Sharks in six.
Hockey Central insider predictions
Chris Johnston: Kings
Doug MacLean: Kings
Daren Millard: Kings
Scott Morrison: Kings
John Shannon: Kings
Mark Spector: Sharks