Apr 3, 2014; San Jose, CA, USA; San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton (19) pushes Los Angeles Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin (6) during the third period at SAP Center at San Jose. The Sharks defeated the Kings 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Stanley Cup Playoffs Preview :: San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings

San Jose Sharks (P2) vs. Los Angeles Kings (P3)

Series Schedule

DATE

TIME (ET)

THURSDAY, APRIL 17

10:30 P.M.

SUNDAY, APRIL 20

10 P.M.

TUESDAY, APRIL 22

10 P.M.

THURSDAY, APRIL 24

10:30 P.M.

*SATURDAY, APRIL 26

TBD

*MONDAY, APRIL 28

TBD

*WEDNESDAY, APRIL 30

TBD

Ladies and gentlemen, this could be one heck of a series.

In addition to being rivals within California, San Jose and Los Angeles have recent playoff history, as the Kings defeated the Sharks in seven hard-fought games last spring to advance to the Western Conference finals, where Los Angeles fell in five games to the eventual Stanley Cup-champion Chicago Blackhawks.

The Kings took this year’s season series 3-1-1, though four of the five games were decided by a single goal.

San Jose’s Stanley Cup window with captain Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau is closing by the day, though 41-goal scorer Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture have given the Sharks a much stronger scoring dimension, further bolstered by the return of rookie wunderkind Tomas Hertl from a knee injury. Meanwhile, Brent Burns and Tommy Wingels are also dependable secondary scoring options in an environment where depth is so important.

The Sharks have two former Stanley Cup winners on their roster in Tyler Kennedy (Pittsburgh, 2009), and goaltender Antti Niemi (Chicago, 2010), who had yet another solid season in goal, as the former Vezina Trophy nominee posted a 39-17-7 record with a 2.39 goals-against average and four shutouts. However, Niemi was somewhat shaky down the stretch, allowing three or more goals in four of his final six games, posting a save percentage of .895 in that span.

By contrast, Jonathan Quick has rounded into form following the Olympic break, posting an 11-4-2 record with a .924 save percentage and three shutouts since returning from Sochi, though the William Jennings Trophy winner went 1-2-2 in his final five starts with a .908 save percentage. Quick has beaten the Sharks both times he’s played them this season, including a 23-save shutout at the SAP Center on Jan. 27, the only road win of the five contested by the two teams.

Should Quick falter, Martin Jones has proven to be a reliable backup for a Kings squad that allowed fewer goals than any other team in the NHL this season, though he’s yet to play in the playoffs.

Up front, the Kings scored the fewest goals among all playoff teams this season, finishing ahead of only the New Jersey Devils, the Vancouver Canucks, the Florida Panthers, and the Buffalo Sabres overall. That shouldn’t surprise anybody who knows Darryl Sutter‘s coaching style.

However, Dean Lombardi made a shrewd move, picking up Marian Gaborik at the trade deadline to help address the need, and he’s fit in nicely in Los Angeles, with five goals and 16 points in 19 games while playing primarily with Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams.

They also have a balanced blue-line, with plenty of youthful experience in the form of Drew Doughty, Slava Voynov, Alec Martinez, and Jake Muzzin, along with veteran rearguards Matt GreeneRobyn Regehr and Willie Mitchell.

Los Angeles also has a lot of playoff experience, as 17 players on this year’s squad were on the Stanley Cup-winning team from just two seasons ago, and those who came in as replacements have been there.

Prediction: Kings in 7

This could be the most entertaining series of the entire opening round, and it’s a damn shame one of them has to be eliminated so quickly. It’s sure to be a battle from start to finish, with the winner likely playing either the Anaheim Ducks or the Dallas Stars in the next round. Whoever advances will need to recover quickly, but the Kings barely have the better team make-up to make yet another deep run in the postseason.

Tags: Los Angeles Kings NHL San Jose Sharks Western Conference