Los Angeles Kings vs. San Jose Sharks: NHL Playoff Preview and Prediction

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistMay 13, 2013

Los Angeles Kings vs. San Jose Sharks: NHL Playoff Preview and Prediction

0 of 8

    The fourth-seeded Los Angeles Kings and the sixth-seeded San Jose Sharks are attempting to rewrite history as they meet in the conference semifinal round of the NHL postseason.

    In recent seasons, no team has been able to defend the Stanley Cup. The Kings went on a spectacular run to win their first Stanley Cup a year ago, and they are coming off an impressive first-round performance against the St. Louis Blues.

    The San Jose Sharks have often been a Western Conference favorite over the last 10 years, but they have never had a chance to play in the Stanley Cup Finals. While they are no longer a favorite, they rolled to an easy first-round win, and they may be finally ready to assert themselves.

Where They Stand after First Round

1 of 8

    It was magical for the Los Angeles Kings in the playoffs last year. They won the first three games of every series and basically waltzed to the Stanley Cup.

    This year, they dropped the first two games against the St. Louis Blues and found themselves in serious trouble. However, they showed swagger and ability in winning the next four games and getting the best of a hard-hitting and physical opponent.

    The Sharks had a lot of ups and downs in the regular season, but head coach Todd McLellan's team was sharply focused in the first round of the playoffs. They played error-free hockey and swept the once-formidable Vancouver Canucks out of the playoffs.

Key Storylines

2 of 8

    SoCal vs. NoCal.

    The Sharks defeated the Kings in their last playoff meeting in 2011, ending their season in the first round and taking just six games to do it.

    Head coach Darryl Sutter wasn't with the Kings for that series, but he is sure to drum that point home so his team has one more reason to beat the Sharks.

    The Kings would like to become the first team since the Detroit Red Wings (1997 and 1998) to win back-to-back Stanley Cup championships.

    The Sharks are a veteran team, and the current group may not have many more opportunities to win the Stanley Cup. As a result, they should be quite focused for this series.

Players to Watch

3 of 8

    Los Angeles Kings

    Jeff Carter—He is one of the most unique performers in the NHL. Carter is a big-time goal scorer from the center position. Most centers like to focus on dishing the puck and giving their wings a chance to score goals, but Carter had just seven assists to go with his 26 goals in the regular season.

    He scored three goals and did not have an assist in the first round. Carter has a laser-fast release on his wrist shot.

    Anze Kopitar—He is probably the Kings' best all-around offensive player. Kopitar did not have a great season, but he appeared to be coming out of it in the first round with a goal and three assists.

    Kopitar will gladly take an elbow and hang in there in order to get a key shot on goal. He's a solid skater and quite creative with the puck.

     

    San Jose Sharks

    Joe Pavelski—When the Sharks need a key goal in the third period or later, the puck seems to find its way to "Little Joe." Look for Pavelski to swoop into the slot and fire a vicious wrister or pick up a tough rebound. He had four goals and four assists against the Canucks.

    Logan Couture—Another hard-edged and skilled player who seems to get better when the Sharks have a lot on the line. Couture has an array of moves, and he also had eight points in the first-round win. Look for Couture to cause problems for the Kings defense.

Goaltender Breakdown

4 of 8

    Los Angeles Kings—Jonathan Quick is the defending Conn Smythe Trophy winner, and after getting off to a rough start with two consecutive losses against the Blues, he appears to be back in top form. Quick is aptly named because his reactions allow him to make the quick-twitch saves that many other goalies can't.

    Quick has a 1.58 goals-against average and a .944 save percentage with one shutout after the first round. He will be very tough for the Sharks to beat.

     

    San Jose Sharks—Even though Antti Niemi backstopped the Chicago Blackhawks to the 2010 Stanley Cup championship, he is one of the most underrated performers in the NHL. He did get nominated for the Vezina Trophy this year, but he would seem to be the third choice behind Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers and Sergei Bobrovsky of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

    Niemi was excellent in the first round with a 1.86 GAA and a .937 save percentage.

Biggest Mismatch

5 of 8

    This matchup is very close in a number of categories.

    Both teams have excellent goaltending and defense. When it comes to special teams, the Sharks have a slight edge on both the power play and at penalty killing.

    Both teams are excellent in the faceoff circle. The Sharks were second in faceoff proficiency to the Boston Bruins while the Kings were fourth.

    However the Kings have a significant edge on the offensive end. The Kings scored an average of 2.73 goals per game, ranking 10th in the NHL this season. The Sharks struggled with an average of 2.42 goals per game, ranking 24th in the league.

    If the Sharks have to play come-from-behind hockey, they could have a big problem against Quick and the Kings' defense.

Los Angeles Will Win If...

6 of 8

    The Kings are a playoff-proven team that has strength in all the measurable areas.

    They are a much-improved offensive team from last year. They play a very solid physical game, and Quick is one of the better goalies in the league.

    The Kings are also very confident when they take the ice. They didn't let a 2-0 deficit get them down.

    They should have a chance to win and advance because they are such a complete team, unless they give the Sharks a ton of opportunities on the power play.

San Jose Will Win If...

7 of 8

    The Sharks are operating at a high level after their first-round sweep of the Canucks, but it's hard to see this team emerge against the Kings after exchanging punches with a team that will hit them back.

    The Sharks can win this series, but they must show substantial growth. When challenged, they have fallen short in the past. There's no reason to think that won't happen again until they prove otherwise.

    They need substantial performances from Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle as well as Pavelski and Couture.

    If they keep responding to the Kings' haymakers, they have a chance to win. Otherwise, it will be another playoff disappointment for the Sharks.

Prediction

8 of 8

    There's no playoff hangover for the Los Angeles Kings. Unlike the previous two defending Stanley Cup champions, the Kings refused to bow out in the first round.

    This team is tough and will try to assert its will against the Sharks. They may look like they are taking on the role of bullies, but that's because the Sharks have not always responded in the appropriate manner when challenged.

    Even if they do in this series, the Kings are the better team. Look for Los Angeles to win this series in six games and advance to the Western Conference Final.