We are knee-deep into a dogfight series in the Western Conference Semifinals. The Los Angeles Kings currently lead the series two games to one after holding serve in Staples Center in Game 1 and Game 2. The Sharks fought back though, and took Game 3 in HP Pavilion to get the series to 2-1.
Tuesday night will mark the halfway point of the series (if it goes seven) and the games have not lacked tenacity or talking points. From fines and suspensions to goals and saves, the series has not failed to provide playoff intensity.
From the Kings' standpoint, there are definitely some things the team will mull over as they approach Game 4 on Tuesday in San Jose.
Going in, everyone knew home ice games were going to be must wins. Both barns are extremely difficult to play in and have been bastions for their respective squads this season.
The Kings sported an impressive 19-4-1 record at home, but the San Jose sharks had an equally impressive record of 17-2-5. Also important to note is that both teams are not the best on the road with only 9 wins apiece during the regular season. Safe to say, losing at home may be signing your own death warrant.
The series has played out as expected with the home team winning three out of three thus far. Home ice is always important in a series, but between these two it is a must. The Kings possess the advantage of having Game 7 on home ice, so if the script plays out to the bitter end with home teams winning out, the Kings will have an ace in the hole.
Any team winning on the road will be a dagger in the heart. With the established point that both teams are tremendous home teams, the rare road win could be the real difference maker if this series is to finish in anything less than seven games.
The Kings came close in Game 3, losing a hard-fought battle in overtime. On the flip side San Jose came very close in their own right to beating the Kings in Game 2, being up 3-2 with less than two minutes to play in regulation.
That is how close this series has been.
With a different two minutes in Los Angeles or a different five or ten minutes in San Jose, this series could have a drastically different look. That one road win could be the real difference maker.
Some matchups are defined by special teams, others are defined by the lack thereof. The Kings experienced the latter in their first round series aganst St. Louis, scoring just two on the power play while allowing the same on the penalty kill.
This series is taking the vein of the former and being defined by the power play. The Kings already have three power-play goals, all coming in a 4-3 Game 2 victory. The Sharks turned the tables in Game 3 and had two power-play goals in a 2-1 victory.
Both teams have been scoring timely goals on special teams which is equally as important as quantity. The Kings have looked incredibly effective on their power play with solid puck movement and strong, established pressure. It was a huge difference maker in Game 2 and the team can perhaps pull from that and strike again further into the series.
It's going to have to be all hands on deck for this series. Everyone knows the major players. Where the difference could be made is the depth beyond the top players.
The Kings have been getting tremendous play from young rookie Tyler Toffoli and playoff veterans Trevor Lewis and Dustin Penner. On the flip side, much maligned in Montreal, Scott Gomez has had a resurgence in the series and has provided an offensive spark for the Sharks.
Couture and Marleau are going to score. Carter and Brown are going to score. Where the series has broken open a bit is when a bottom line, like the Kings' third line in Game 2, completely takes over. Both teams have good depth which will be tested moving forward.
All signs point to this being a six or seven game series. Also, if you go beyond the temporal definition, it's going to be a long series physically if the first three games are any indication.
There have been a fair share of after whistle scrums, big hits and players laying out for the team. Both teams have proven to be big and physical and equally as difficult to deal with on the cycle. It hasn't been uncommon to see numerous extended shifts from both squads in their own zone.
The only benefit to it being a potentially long series is that the travel isn't so bad, being just a 45-minute flight apart. Outside of that, this has all the makings of a mentally and physically long series.