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Kings vs. Sharks Game 7: Preview and Prediction For NHL Playoff Series Finale

Brad KurtzbergContributor IApril 29, 2014

Kings vs. Sharks Game 7: Preview and Prediction For NHL Playoff Series Finale

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    The Sharks and Kings will meet in Game 7.
    The Sharks and Kings will meet in Game 7.Tony Avelar

    Few people would have thought it possible a week ago, but the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings are headed to Game 7 in their opening-round Pacific Division playoff series on Wednesday night.

    The Sharks finished the regular season 11 points ahead of the Kings in the standings, so they have home-ice advantage.

    The Kings are trying to become only the fourth team in NHL history to overcome a 3-0 series deficit and win a best-of-seven playoff series.

    San Jose faced a similar situation against the Detroit Red Wings in 2011. San Jose won the first three games of the series before the Wings forced a seventh game. San Jose managed to win the series.

    Here is an in-depth preview of the seventh and deciding game of this series.

Series Summary and Viewing Info

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    The Kings have won the last 3 games of the series.
    The Kings have won the last 3 games of the series.Harry How/Getty Images

    This has been a tale of two series, with San Jose dominating early and Los Angeles controlling play in the past three games.

    The Sharks took a 3-0 lead in the series, outscoring the Kings 17-8. San Jose's forwards moved freely and quickly through the neutral zone in the first three games, while the Kings' usually stout defense and goaltending played poorly.

    Since then, Jonathan Quick and the Kings have found their defensive game. San Jose has scored only four times total in the last three games, all of which were won by the Kings. On Monday night, Los Angeles beat San Jose 4-1 to even the series 3-3.

    "From an X-and-O standpoint, we're just getting back quicker to our zone," Dustin Brown told NHL.com's Corey Masisak. "They have a really good forecheck, but if we can get back quick and help each other with the support and clean passes, it gives a chance to break their forecheck and go the other way. From there, it is about puck possession."

    Game 7 is scheduled for 10:00 p.m. ET in San Jose. It will be televised on the NBC Sports Network nationally, while Prime and CSN California will have local coverage in Los Angeles and in the Bay Area. CBC and RDS2 will televise the game in Canada.

Biggest Storylines

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    The rivarly between these two teams has grown more intense.
    The rivarly between these two teams has grown more intense.Juan Ocampo/Getty Images

    The biggest storyline is the Kings' attempt to make history.

    There have been 175 best-of-seven series that started out 3-0. Only seven teams were able to force a seventh and deciding game.

    Only three teams have been able to complete the comeback: The 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, the 1975 New York Islanders and the 2010 Philadelphia Flyers are the only three teams to turn that trick.

    The Kings have the momentum on their side and have played very well since Game 4.

    Meanwhile, the Sharks, a team that has a history of playoff disappointments, is facing a collapse of historic proportions. San Jose has been one of the better teams in the NHL since 2003-04, but they have never reached the Stanley Cup Final.

    To make things worse, the Sharks were frustrated and angry about the controversial game-winning goal in Game 6.

    In his postgame press conference, Sharks' head coach Todd McClellan told reporters (via Corey Masisak of NHL.com), "We got cheated. Simple as that. I was told that you could see the puck laying behind his feet the whole time. That is why the whistle didn't go. It’s pretty clear when you look at it after. That was obviously the turning point."

    But the Sharks cannot dwell on that bad call as they head into Game 7. They need to regroup and return to the style of play that worked so well earlier in the series.

Key Matchup

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    Can the Kings continue to keep the Sharks' top line in check?
    Can the Kings continue to keep the Sharks' top line in check?Don Smith/Getty Images

    The biggest matchup in this battle is the way that the Kings handle the Sharks' big, skilled and swift forwards.

    In the first three games, Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski combined for 15 points. In the last three games, that same foursome combined for just three points.

    The Kings defense has found a way to slow down San Jose's group of talented forwards. They have to continue to do so.

    If the Sharks get the quality scoring chances that they had in the first three games, they have a much better chance of winning the game. If Los Angeles continues to shut down San Jose's big guns, the Kings can win this game without scoring many goals.

Goaltending Breakdown

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    Jonathan Quick has played well after a poor start to the series.
    Jonathan Quick has played well after a poor start to the series.Harry How/Getty Images

    Jonathan Quick will certainly get the start for the Kings.

    During the regular season, Quick was 27-17-4 with a 2.07 GAA and a .916 save percentage.

    In six games in this series, Quick has a 3.47 GAA and a save percentage of .902.

    After a horrible start in the first three games, Quick has regained his groove and has stopped 91 of 95 shots over the past three contests, which equates to a .958 save percentage.

    Quick is considered one of the top goalies in the NHL. He led the Kings to a Stanley Cup title in 2012 and played for Team USA at the 2014 Olympics.

    The Sharks have an interesting choice in goal. Alex Stalock made his first career NHL playoff start in Game 6 of this series and played well for the most part. Stalock entered Game 4 and Game 5 of this series midway through the game and did not allow a goal in either game.

    Overall for the series, Stalock has a 2.05 GAA and a .929 save percentage with an 0-1 record.

    During the regular season, Stalock went 12-5-2 with a 1.87 GAA and a save percentage of .932.

    The Sharks could also turn to the more experienced Antti Niemi. Niemi was 39-17-7 during the regular season with a 2.39 GAA and a .913 save percentage.

    In the playoffs, however, Niemi has faltered and was pulled from Games 4 and 5 and benched for Game 6. His record in the series is 3-2 but his GAA is 3.90 and his save percentage a mediocre .882.

    Niemi has also won a Stanley Cup. He helped lead the Chicago Blackhawks to a title back in 2010.

    Sharks' coach Todd McClellan can go with the hot hand in Stalock or the more experienced, but cold veteran in Niemi.

    Either way, the Kings have an edge in goal.

Projected Lineups

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    Both teams are set for Game 7.
    Both teams are set for Game 7.Noah Graham/Getty Images

    The Kings will more or less stick with the lineup that worked for them in Game 6.

    The one possible change revolves around defenseman Willie Mitchell. Mitchell suffered an injury in Game 6 and his availability for Game 7 is up in the air right now. If Mitchell is unable to play, the Kings are expected to insert Matt Greene into the lineup.

    Marian Gaborik – Anze Kopitar – Dustin Brown
    Tanner Pearson – Jeff Carter – Tyler Toffoli
    Dwight King – Jarret Stoll – Justin Williams
    Kyle Clifford – Mike Richards – Trevor Lewis

    Jake Muzzin – Drew Doughty
    Robyn Regehr – Slava Voynov
    Willie Mitchell – Alec Martinez

    Jonathan Quick
    Martin Jones

     

    There are two big questions for San Jose.

    The first is whether or not defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who sat out Game 6 with an injury, will be available for Game 7. Vlasic is the Sharks' best defenseman and they are much stronger with him in their lineup. Even if he plays, the question becomes: "How effective would he be?"

    The other question is: "Who starts in goal?" Does Todd McLellan go with the more experienced Niemi or the hot hand in Stalock?

    The lineup below assumes that Matt Irwin will once again replace Vlasic and that Stalock is the starter in net for the Sharks:

    Tomas Hertl – Joe Thornton – Brent Burns
    Patrick Marleau – Logan Couture – Matt Nieto
    James Sheppard – Joe Pavelski – Tommy Wingels
    Raffi Torres – Andrew Desjardins – Mike Brown

    Matt Irwin – Dan Boyle
    Brad Stuart – Justin Braun
    Scott Hannan – Jason Demers

    Alex Stalock
    Antti Niemi

The Kings Will Win If...

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    The Kings have mometum.
    The Kings have mometum.Harry How/Getty Images

    The Kings will win this game if they continue to play strong team defense and shut down the Sharks top forwards.

    Los Angeles is a defense-oriented team under Darryl Sutter and their poor defensive play in the opening three games of the series came as a surprise.

    Jonathan Quick is a key here. If he continues to play as well as he had over the past three games, the Kings will be tough to beat.

    The penalty kill will also be important for the Kings. San Jose is just 4-for-26 with the man-advantage. If the Kings keep the San Jose power play bottled up, their chances of winning increase dramatically.

The Sharks Will Win If...

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    Marleau and Couture need to find their scoring touch again.
    Marleau and Couture need to find their scoring touch again.Ben Margot

    The first goal will be important for the Sharks. If they give up the first goal, the self doubt that has to be encroaching on the Sharks will only grow, and the crowd will be quieted. In short, the home-ice advantage that San Jose had worked so hard to get will be nullified.

    The Sharks' big offensive players also need to play well. They don't have a great history in Game 7s. Captain Joe Thornton has two points in four career Game 7s. Patrick Marleau has played in three Game 7s and has just one point in those games. Thornton, Marleau, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski need to return to their early-series form and put pressure on Quick in front of the Los Angeles net.

    The Sharks also need a big game from whoever they start in goal. Letting in a bad goal could spell disaster for San Jose.

Prediction

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    One of these teams will make an early playoff exit.
    One of these teams will make an early playoff exit.Chris Carlson

    The momentum is squarely with Los Angeles right now. They also have the better goalie and the better defense, especially if Vlasic is unable to play.

    The Sharks' collective psyche is fragile, while the Kings' confidence is sky high. Los Angeles has figured out how to be physical and shut down San Jose's most skilled forwards.

    The Kings will win, but it won't necessarily be easy.

    PREDICTION: Los Angeles Kings 3, San Jose Sharks 1

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