The San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings are knotted up at two games apiece heading into Game 5, but one team is clearly in control of this series right now.
Here's a hint: It's not the Kings.
After getting hammered in the first two games on the road against Los Angeles, the Sharks have come alive on both sides of the ice. The tempo and level of aggression the Sharks are playing with right now is incomparable to what we've seen from the Kings in the past two games.
At one point during Game 4, Ray Ratto of CSN Bay Area made an astute comment about the different approach on offense between the two teams:
Ray Ratto @RattoCSN
Sharks have attempted 37 shots (including missed and blocked). Kings 7. All other stats seem, well, superfluous.5/22/2013, 3:05:47 AM
Simply put, San Jose's playing with some serious fire right now on offense. Los Angeles needs to wake up and respond with the same energy and urgency to avoid getting blown away in the next two games.
On the defensive side, Sharks defensemen Marc Edouard-Vlasic and Justin Braun are completely stymieing the front line of Los Angeles. Kings center Anze Kopitar has only managed one power-play assist in the first four games, per Curtis Pashelka of the Bay Area News Group.
Perhaps at the center of it all is Joe Thornton, who has come alive in a major way the past few games. Teammate T.J. Galiardi spoke about Thornton's incredible play after Game 4, per ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun:
It’s the best I’ve seen him play. I don’t know what he had for pregame meal today, but I hope he has it again in a couple of days. He was flying. And it’s so contagious; when Jumbo’s going, everybody is going. It’s pretty to watch.
Pretty to watch and pretty darn effective.
Thornton's leadership has San Jose ready to unseat last year's champs. If he and the rest of his teammates come to play with the same kind of intensity as they have the past couple of games, the Kings are doomed.
Honestly, if not for Jonathan Quick's outstanding goalkeeping, the Sharks would have won the last two games by wide margins. Furthermore, if not for some crazy happenings at the end of Game 2, the Sharks would have a 3-1 lead heading back down to Los Angeles.
This series is tied, but right now the Sharks have a huge mental edge on the Kings. The level of intensity the team has been playing with epitomizes playoff hockey, and to this point in the series, it's a level Los Angeles has yet to match.
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