Besides the Montreal Canadiens making short work of the Tampa Bay Lightning in a four-game sweep, the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs has lived up to the lofty expectations set forth by the NHL.
With both the Eastern and Western Conference portions of the bracket featuring incredible matchups fans wouldn’t have been treated to without the new postseason format, the playoffs are just as exciting as they were billed to be.
Thursday’s Must-Watch Game: San Jose vs. Los Angeles
There is plenty of intense action scheduled for Thursday, but no matchup has the major implications that Game 4 of the battle between the San Jose Sharks and the Los Angeles Kings has on the line.
As NBC Sports points out, Los Angeles is on the brink of elimination:
The Kings are recent Stanley Cup champions and possess many of the same players who shined during that postseason run. This time around, though, the team’s offense is struggling with consistency, and netminder Jonathan Quick is not living up to expectations.
San Jose has one of the most gifted offensive teams in the NHL, and despite Los Angeles’ ability to shut down most teams, the struggle to slow down the Sharks has doomed the franchise. Teams don’t win the Stanley Cup giving up 17 goals through the first three games.
After his team forced Game 3 into overtime, San Jose captain Joe Thornton told David Pollak of the Mercury News about San Jose's mindset heading into extra period:
Coming into the room, we felt good. Our best period was the third and we thought we could roll it over in the overtime. Our group just felt comfortable that someone was going to be the hero tonight and thank goodness it was [Patrick Marleau].
As The Hockey Report’s Dale Lamontagne tweeted out, the victory for the Sharks in Los Angeles was a rarity and showed just how well San Jose is playing right now:
3-0 series lead for the Sharks over the Kings. That's San Jose's first win at Staples Center in three years. Not looking good for LA.— Dale Lamontagne (@Dale_Lamontagne) April 23, 2014
While Game 4 could easily be the Kings bouncing back to steal a victory at home before the series goes back to San Jose, the Sharks are playing aggressive hockey and clearly want to end this series early.
There is no doubt Los Angeles is a dangerous team, but San Jose caught the team in the middle of a down period. If the Sharks want to send a message to the rest of the NHL, they’re the team to beat—sweeping a powerhouse like the Kings would be the perfect first-round statement.
Prediction: San Jose sweeps Los Angeles
*Stats via NHL.com.