San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings: Game-by-Game Predictions
L.A. will not win many games being outshot 35-20, but San Jose must be better near the net to score on Jonathan Quick.
However. we cannot read too much into one game in what promises to be a long series. Both teams will make adjustments, and both will have their peaks and valleys.
It is one thing to look at how the units match up to predict who will win a series. It is far more difficult to peer into each individual game and try to predict which team will be up and which will be down, how far apart they might be and especially which player stands out.
For instance, many could have seen the less-rusty Kings winning the first contest of the series at home, where they are an NHL-best 23-4-1 after Game 1. But how many would have predicted a shutout or that the only two goals scored by either team would come off Slava Voynov shots?
Here is how the remainder of the series will play out.
Game 2: Sharks 2, Kings 1, OT
After his hit on Jarret Stoll (known for delivering questionable hits of his own), Raffi Torres is suspended for the series. But since both players miss the rest of the series, the scales even out...no matter what Darryl Sutter thinks of the trade-off.
The Sharks are down three forwards and coach Todd McLellan struggles to find the new lines. Eventually, what he settles on works to allow him to roll four lines.
Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are reunited on the first line with Brent Burns and the trio erupts. Only the excellent goaltending of Jonathan Quick keeps the unit to one goal.
T.J. Galiardi can assume Torres' role on the second line with Logan Couture and Tommy Wingels, but the attention the Kings pay to Couture all but shuts this line down offensively. Eventually, McLellan decides to stop swimming upstream and uses the line as a second option defensively.
He keeps Joe Pavelski and Scott Gomez centering the checking lines to maintain balance, but both get heavy minutes on special teams to find themselves getting first- and second-line minutes, respectively.
There is just enough scoring potential to get that extra goal past a defense focused on the scoring lines.
Meanwhile, Antti Niemi is a fortress. He faces almost twice as many shots as he did in Game 1 and turns away all but one Jeff Carter rebound goal.
Game 3: Kings 3, Sharks 2
Torres' suspension goes longer than it should because his past villainy has understandably created a bias (if he was not even a repeat offender, no suspension would have been warranted). In both games, the Sharks are outshot because they are down three forwards.
The Kings have much less trouble without Stoll. They are able to put enough shots on Antti Niemi to score three goals despite a solid game from the 2013 Vezina Trophy finalist.
Anze Kopitar will assist on two of the goals, and one comes short-handed. Dustin Brown gets a marker, but the game-winner comes from a checking line.
The second power-play unit of the Sharks scores, as does the top line. Brent Burns gets a secondary assist on both goals.
The tide of the series seems to change. It becomes clear that Quick is frustrating opposing shooters, while Niemi has been "merely" human in two of three games.
Game 4: Sharks 4, Kings 2
Torres should be back, and once the San Jose Sharks adjust to his absence, getting shafted will give them a rallying point. Because Stoll is still out. the balance of power is delicate enough that it tips the scales back in San Jose's favor.
The puck seems to find its way through traffic to their sticks, with rebound and screened goals as well as deflections. The second line breaks through for a goal and the first line converts on the power play (Dan Boyle).
Thus, they are able to score four goals on Quick and look to have him solved. The penalty kill is also flawless and Antti Niemi is solid, giving the Sharks balance that makes them look like the better team in this series now.
Game 5: Kings 4, Sharks 1
As is typical in the ebb and flow of a seven-game Stanley Cup playoff series, the pendulum swings again in the Western Conference semifinals. Whereas the puck found its way to Sharks sticks in Game 4, they cannot buy a break the next game.
Quick goes back to Conn Smythe-level play too, turning away more than 30 shots, with the only goal scored on him deflecting off a teammate.
The Kings get scoring from their power play, blue line, scoring and checking lines. They have Niemi scrambling and eventually chase him late in the third when they put the game away.
The Sharks are behind for more than two periods and with a deficit of at least two goals for almost half the game. Predictably, the post-game chatter questions whether the Sharks can recover from such a performance to beat the Stanley Cup champions twice in a row.
Game 6: Sharks 3, Kings 2
The Sharks play their best when they are behind. That goes for this game, which is staring a 2-1 deficit late in the second period as well as elimination dead in the eye.
Stoll is still out for the Kings, and that keeps them from spreading out their defensive forwards over the lines of the Sharks. Being on the road also hurts their ability to get the matchups they want.
By the third period, the home team is able to feed off one of the loudest crowds in the NHL. Players whose legacy is likely on the line need the win more than the team that just won last season.
Both goalies are fantastic, but Niemi wins this duel. Pavelski is able to put a puck home late during a net-front scrum in what is basically sudden death.
Game 7: Sharks 3, Kings 2, OT
By the end of this game, the extra playing time the Kings had in the first round and their physical style of play take their toll. Not having to face elimination in their 2012 Stanley Cup run gave them more time to heal up than they get now.
That physical play also results in extra power plays for the Sharks, who have their legs thanks to an extra three days and two games off.
Eventually, the scrambling Kings take a penalty in what is surprisingly just the second overtime of the series and Logan Couture ends their season.
Niemi benefits more than anyone from that earlier rest, "saving" his best for last with a save percentage of about .950 that includes some highlight-reel stops. Brad Stuart blocks at least five shots and Torres gets at least five hits. Eight different Sharks score a point in a team effort, including all four centers.