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After a rough start in Games 1 and 2, the defending champion Los Angeles Kings won four consecutive contests to defeat the St. Louis Blues in six games in the first round.
In a series where every single match was decided by a single goal and only 19 total goals were scored in 18 regulation periods, the Kings built upon their experience gained from last spring's title run and prevailed in pressure situation after pressure situation.
2012 Conn Smythe-winning netminder Jonathan Quick was stellar yet again, recording a 1.58 GAA and .944 save percentage. He's now won a stunning 20 of his last 26 postseason appearances.
On the other end of the ice, the Kings offense averaged just two goals per game. Their leading first-round point scorer, Mike Richards, didn't even light the lamp once in the series (he had five assists). Traditional impact players Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter and Dustin Brown were all factors, however, and Justin Williams continued to thrive in his increased role.
The only sweep of the first round belonged to the San Jose Sharks, who thumped the Northwest Division champion Vancouver Canucks four consecutive times to earn a week-long break entering Tuesday.
San Jose topped Vancouver twice in overtime—including the series-concluding Game 4—despite the Canucks' goaltender switch from Roberto Luongo to Cory Schneider after two home losses. Antti Niemi outdueled the 'Nucks duo by a wide margin, putting up an impressive .937 save percentage and letting his offense do the rest.
Joe Pavelski, always at his best in the postseason, tied youngster Logan Couture for the Sharks' first-round scoring lead at eight points. Captain Joe Thornton, meanwhile, registered six points of his own, while longtime club cornerstone Patrick Marleau chipped in with four goals.
Kings won season series 2-1-1 (Sharks 2-2-0)
The regular-season series between these two California rivals was well-matched, with both teams winning both home games (overall, Los Angeles and San Jose were a combined 36-6-6 at home during the regular season).
The Kings did, however, defeat the Sharks 3-2 in the final game of the regular season to earn the fifth seed and drop their northern foes to sixth.
Just like last year's Kings, who went 16-4 in the playoffs to become the first-ever eighth seed-turned-Cup champion, the Sharks are an extremely streaky team.
But, right now, they're on fire. And that's very dangerous for the rest of the NHL.
Loaded with an underrated blend of young and old on one of the league's best offenses and backed by a former Cup-winning netminder, 2013 might finally be the year the San Jose Sharks make their title campaign.
They face a stiff test in Round 2, but we foresee the surging Sharks knocking off the defending champs and marching their way into the Western Conference Final.
Sharks in Six Games