NHL Playoffs 2013: San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings Game 7 Preview

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NHL Playoffs 2013: San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings Game 7 Preview
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The battle of California between the Los Angeles Kings and the San Jose Sharks has come down to one final game.

Puck drop for Game 7 is set for Tuesday at 9:00 p.m. ET from the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Despite being a low-scoring, tight-checking series, the Kings and Sharks have played some of the most entertaining hockey of the 2013 NHL playoffs.

Here’s a look at the results from the first six games of the series.

Game 1: Sharks 0 at Kings 2

Game 2: Sharks 3 at Kings 4

Game 3: Kings 1 at Sharks 2 (OT)

Game 4: Kings 1 at Sharks 2

Game 5: Sharks 0 at Kings 3

Game 6: Kings 1 at Sharks 2

Not only has the home team won all six games in this series, it also won all four games in the regular-season series as well.

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It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that the Kings and Sharks have played such close contests throughout the year. Both teams are loaded with savvy veterans, skilled youngsters and two of the top goaltenders in the Western Conference.

 

Jonathan Quick and Antti Niemi

Both goaltenders have hoisted the Stanley Cup in recent years. Quick took home the Conn Smythe Trophy last year as he led the Kings to their first Stanley Cup. Niemi went all the way with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010, helping them win their first title since 1961.

With similar performances thus far, the winning netminder in Game 7 will surely be a Conn Smythe candidate when the conference finals get under way.

Quick is 7-5 in the playoffs with a .947 save percentage, 1.54 GAA and three shutouts.

Niemi is 7-3 in the playoffs with a .932 save percentage, 1.85 GAA and no shutouts.

This will be the first Game 7 of Quick’s career, while Niemi has played in just one, leading the Sharks to a win over the Red Wings in the second round of the 2011 playoffs.

 

Mike Richards and Joe Thornton

Mike Richards and Joe Thornton are widely recognized as two of the best leaders in the NHL today and both have produced offensively throughout the playoffs.

Richards has earned a reputation as a top playoff performer who contributes at both ends of the rink. And he's done exactly that again this year.

Richards leads the Kings with 10 points (two goals and eight assists) in 12 games. As usual, he’s played a physical game and has been effective on special teams. And, with 13 blocked shots, he’s tied with Anze Kopitar for the lead among Kings’ forwards.

The former captain of the Philadelphia Flyers led his old team to victory in his previous two Game 7s, which included a historical comeback against the Boston Bruins in 2010.

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Joe Thornton may be the only Sharks player who’s had success against Richards in this series. Thornton has been criticized (perhaps unfairly at times) for not showing up in the playoffs in the past.

That certainly hasn't been the case this year.

With two goals and eight assists for 10 points, Thornton trails Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski by just a point for the team lead in scoring. He does lead the Sharks in the faceoff circle, having won 59.5 percent of his draws. He also has a team best plus/minus rating of plus-5.

Thornton has also been particularly good without puck, generating turnovers and using his size and skill to be a force in the neutral zone.

 

Team Performance

The Kings need to spend more time in the offensive zone, putting pressure on Niemi. Too often in the playoffs the Kings have scored just a single goal and that won’t be enough to win Game 7. The first and third lines, specifically Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar, need to be at their best up front.

The Sharks must continue to be aggressive on offense and put bodies and pucks to the net. Brent Burns, who has 35 hits to go along with nine points, should set the tone early. The Sharks may not be able to match the Kings physically, but some early hits and offensive chances could help swing the momentum in their direction.

Harry How/Getty Images

As for special teams, it’s the Kings who may have an advantage, if only because they’re on home ice.

The Sharks have a better power play in the playoffs, (22.9 percent vs. 18.8 percent for the Kings) but they've yet to score at the Staples Center, going 0-for-10. As for the penalty kill, the Kings are operating at 85.4 percent, which has them ranked fifth in the postseason. The Sharks come in at No. 10, having killed off just 77.8 percent of their opportunities.

Expect an exciting game, with tons of hitting, but few penalties. A win would keep the Kings in the running to become the first team to win back-to-back Stanley Cups since the Red Wings in 1997 and 1998. A win for the Sharks, on the other hand, would put them four wins away from their first Stanley Cup final appearance in franchise history.

Prediction: Kings 3, Sharks 2.

 

Stats courtesy of NHL.com.

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