The Detroit Red Wings defeated the Anaheim Ducks in Game 7 Sunday night on the road, which places the San Jose Sharks in a matchup with the Los Angeles Kings in the second round of the Western Conference playoffs.
It will be a battle of two teams that define their success by the amount of defense they play, and that should give a clear indication of which team will win this series.
The Antti Niemi-against-Jonathan Quick matchup is the highlight of the entire series coming up, with two extremely hot goaltenders in net. Both have proven they can carry their team to a Stanley Cup; just one has done it more recently than the other.
Quick has the more recent experience of dominating in net on a consistent playoff basis, but Niemi may have been the hottest goalie entering the playoffs. There can also be a case made for Niemi being the hottest goalie still standing.
Of course whichever goalie has the best showing in this series will have his team move on, in which case scoring on near shutdown netminders could provide the winner.
The Kings have allowed just two power-play goals in the playoffs so far, and that is undoubtedly the strongest part of the Kings’ game on the ice heading into the series with the Sharks.
The Sharks put up seven strong power-play goals against a very weak Vancouver penalty kill, but it was a part of the game San Jose had struggled with entering the series.
Getting to Los Angeles’ relentless attack on the penalty kill is a must if the Sharks are to come out victorious.
While the penalty kill may have tapered off a bit in the series against the Canucks, it was arguably the strongest part of the Sharks’ game during the regular season.
The Kings will generate offense with the likes of Mike Richards, Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter. While most of the Kings’ star players struggled in the first round, they are too good to struggle in back-to-back series.
The faceoff circle generated some controversy in the Sharks/Canucks series, but San Jose clearly dominated that part of the game from start to finish.
San Jose has a good chance of doing the same once more, as the Sharks' 56.1 percent faceoff win percentage will go up against a weary Kings faceoff percentage of 47.1.
It is not often the entire superstar group of Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau has a mighty successful series.
Pavelski and Marleau each had four goals in the first round, while Couture totaled eight points in just four games.
It is a credit to the change in offense the team has undergone since the trade deadline, and San Jose must continue that offensive dominance in the second round against the Kings.
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