NHL Playoffs 2013: Kings' and Sharks' Home Dominance Changing Playoff Landscape
As the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks duel for a spot in the Western Conference Finals, two avid California hockey fanbases are taking the opportunity to prove themselves among the NHL's most influential.
After the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings won Games 1 and 2 at the Staples Center, the Sharks rallied back with Games 3 and 4 victories at HP Pavilion.
The two California franchises—thousands of miles from the traditionally legendary fanbases of Boston, Montreal, Ottawa and others—are now a combined 9-0 at home during the 2013 postseason.
Extreme success in familiar confines is no new blessing for these clubs, though.
The Kings won 19 of 24 home games during the lockout-shortened regular season, leading the league in that category. Meanwhile, the Sharks lost just two home games in regulation during the regular season, leading the league in that category.
That point-per-game ratio (1.68) isn't just better than that the Presidents' Trophy-winning Chicago Blackhawks (1.60), it's better by a significant margin.
Such dominance has simply never before been seen in the competitive likes of the Stanley Cup Playoffs—and, with one of these teams guaranteed to advance into the NHL's four Cup finalists, it's of major concern to the rest of the league, too.
Entering this spring's postseason, many experts predicted runaway regular-season conference champions Pittsburgh and Chicago to roll comfortably into a highly anticipated heavyweight Cup final. However, while both of those teams remain alive today, their statuses as clear favorites are becoming increasingly cloudy.
Part of that reduction in presumed invincibility can be accredited to the persistence of bottom-seeds like the Islanders, Senators and Red Wings. But part of it can also be attributed to the impressive performances put on, night in and night out, by hockey's two California powerhouses.
Both sport goaltenders already boasting the experience of a prior Cup championship—Jonathan Quick's from 2012 with L.A., Antti Niemi's from 2010 with Chicago—and a sparkling combined career playoff record of 57-37.
Moreover, with save percentages of .946 and .930, respectively, in this spring's campaign, they're clearly also capable of maintaining that winning percentage moving forward.
Even outside of the net, though, the Kings and Sharks can compare competitively to their Blackhawk and Penguin foes.
Will the winner of the Kings-Sharks series win the Stanley Cup?
Nonetheless, the roots of Los Angeles' and San Jose's successes always trace back to the Staples Center and HP Pavilion.
Neither franchise played a single game, even in the regular season, in front of a less-than-sellout home crowd this year. Every game night, 18,118 and 17,562 dedicated followers flooded into their seats to support the novelty of hockey in California—and helped push their two respective teams into the elite class of the NHL.
Entering Thursday night's Kings-Sharks Game 5, the Pacific Coast is set to have one very viable Cup contender for the third June in a row.
The NHL's landscape, both in terms of success and support, is changing rapidly.
The Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks are at the very front of the movement.
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