A San Jose Story- The San Jose Sharks have completed their 23rd regular season in franchise history. With that, they will be making their 10 consecutive post season appearance and 17th in franchise history overall. This is a streak that currently is only bested by the Detroit Red Wings who have entered their 23rd straight post season. The Sharks because of the new playoff format introduced this season will be facing the rival Los Angeles Kings in the first round of this post season which starts later this week. The Sharks and Kings have met twice before in the post season with each team winning a series, the Kings being the most recent last season. The Sharks enter the post season with two strong outings against Colorado and Phoenix, however whether or not that has built any true momentum for Team Teal remains to be seen. The Los Angeles Kings meanwhile have been one of the hottest teams in the NHL since the end of the Olympic Break in late February. Before the Olympics, Los Angeles endured a surprisingly poor 1-8-2 mark over 11 games. Since the Olympic Break ended the Kings won their first seven games and are 15-6-2 over their last 23 games. The Sharks have posted a 14-6-3 mark over the same period of time meaning both teams enter this match-up on somewhat equal footing. The Kings have had some recent success against the Sharks particularly at Staples Center where the Sharks have not won a game since New Years Day of 2011. The Sharks will have a lot of hurdles to overcome with this upcoming series and will certainly have their work cut out for them. The Sharks didn’t miss by much last season but just could not find a way to win one game in LA.
Focus Must Be On Playing the Better Hockey- Going into this series there is no love loss between the two teams. The most recent incident between the two teams occurred on December 19th of this season when Kings’ Captain Dustin Brown took out Tomas Hertl with a direct knee on knee hit that left Hertl injured and out for most of the season. This injury robbed Hertl from likely being a candidate for the Calder Trophy and also denied him of a potentially great rookie season. This event also may have prevented the Sharks from putting up a few more wins up which could have meant winning the Pacific Division. Brown was given a five minute major penalty and a game misconduct. However Brown received no disciplinary action from the NHL whatsoever. In the next meeting Tommy Wingels challenged Brown to drop the gloves, but Brown refused. After the game as the Kings left the ice following a 1-0 win, Brown allegedly pointed towards his ring finger while the Sharks left the ice, and while Shark Tank crowd was letting him hear it. Some may gather from this that at some point Brown will have to be dealt with and that is true. What the Sharks cannot forget however is that the LA Kings are far more than just Brown. All truth be told, if the Sharks want to win this series the key to winning it won’t be getting payback on just one player. The best revenge for the Sharks is to win this series and just focus on doing that, and nothing else. The best revenge is victory. Challenging Brown to a fight is temporary. Even if he accepts, the fight is temporary, the time spent in the penalty box is temporary for both clubs. If you want to beat the Los Angeles Kings, the way to do it is the most obvious way. You must beat them on the ice and do enough to win four out of seven possible games. The Sharks must play the better hockey, and focus on the hockey aspect of it only. Anything else is just a distraction. If you are the LA Kings, you want the Sharks to be distracted by the Brown-Hertl incident, you want the Sharks to think about the house of horrors known as the Staples Center. If the Sharks do that, they will already be beaten. Team Teal cannot allow this to enter their mind and it’s up to the coaching staff and the players individually and as a team to understand the best revenge is to win the game and ultimately the series, period.
Kings Are The Usual Suspects- When you play a team like the Los Angeles Kings, you are pretty much picking your poison. There is not one player on the roster outside of maybe the goalies that can’t score from anywhere on the ice and at any time. Obviously Brown can light the lamp, but so can Anze Koptiar, Drew Doughty, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Dwight King, Tyler Toffoli, Alec Martinez, Jake Muzzin and so on. The Kings are almost the west coast version of an NHL All-Star team. They are fast, they can track down a puck faster than you can blink your eyes. In net Jonathan Quick has emerged from his baptism by fire rookie season in 2008-09 to become one of the premier goalies in the NHL. Quick is one of those goalies that is in the minds of those who answer the question “If you were starting an NHL franchise who would be your first choice for a goalie?”. The Sharks over the last couple of seasons have simply not scored much on Quick despite the number of shots they have put on net. The Sharks are not alone here as most teams have had trouble getting rubber past Quick. The bottom line here is that the Kings are going to be and handful and then some. The Sharks can beat the Kings but to do so they are going to have to raise the level of their own game. Focusing on getting payback other than on the scoreboard won’t get it done. Remember, the revenge factor is what the LA Kings want the Sharks to focus on, not playing solid hockey. Another thing to keep in mind about the Kings is that they have no interpretation about playing a game at the Shark Tank. If the Kings steal a game in San Jose, it will become mandatory for the Sharks to win a game in LA (and it may be anyway).
Key Components for Sharks- Team Teal has a solid core of players that were good enough to finish the NHL regular season with 111 total points in the standings. Average teams or teams with multiple issues never point that high or get that far in the overall standings without having a level of skill that is superior. Many of the players on the Sharks roster today have been to the playoffs multiple times now and know the drill all too well. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau have as many playoff miles on them as anyone in the NHL and know what it takes to get to this point. The Sharks also have a good core of players who are very early in their careers still such as Logan Couture, Tommy Wingels, Joe Pavelski, Tomas Hertl and Marc-Edouard Vlasic who are going to be the leaders of this team in the seasons to come. Antti Niemi has been on a Stanley Cup winning team as the top goalie and is no stranger to what it takes to be successful at this level of competition. The Sharks man for man may not be a faster team than the Kings, but they also know how to flood the lanes and make LA have to change up what they are doing when in the San Jose defensive zone. When in the Kings defensive zone, if the Sharks want to get pucks past Quick they will need to be able to constantly create traffic in front of the LA netmider and not be afraid to crash the net. Team Teal will need to be able to be good stewards with the puck and find effective ways to minimize the Kings’ opportunities throughout each game. This won’t be easy and will be quite the yeoman’s task throughout this series. If the Sharks are going to beat the Kings here, each player on the roster must raise is game to their highest level and be able to keep it there in addition to being able to handle a great deal of yeoman’s tasks. This will not only demand a high level of physical ability, bit also mental ability as well. I will take the Sharks to win this series in seven games. However make no mistake, this will not be one that comes easily. If the Sharks drop off or make errors that change games or fail to win the majority of their home games at the Shark Tank, this series will go to the Kings. Bottom Line: The Key for the Sharks to beat the LA Kings is to focus on playing the better hockey, and not worry about any payback on Brown. The best revenge is a series victory, period.
Looking At Other West Conference Series: (1) Ducks vs. (8) Stars: The Anaheim Ducks in winning the Pacific Division and ultimately the top seeding in the Western Conference will draw the Dallas Stars in the first round of this post season. The Ducks have had a strong stretch of games to close the regular season and are a very motivated team looking for their second Stanley Cup in seven years, especially with the pending retirement of Teemu Selanne. The Stars in their first season out of the Pacific Division have much familiarity with the Ducks and that will be one thing that will be to their advantage. Dallas is lead by Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Cody Eakin who bring in a young core that can complete with any team in the NHL with the chips on the line. Kari Lehtonen in 64 games played has a 92 percent save percentage. The Ducks have a line up that on their best night can be the murders row of the NHL. Corey Perry with 43 goals, Ryan Getzlaf with 31, Nick Bonino and Andrew Cogliano have 21 each. Jonas Hiller is as good as any goalie in the game, with very good back-ups in Fred Anderson and John Gibson. I like Anaheim in here in seven games. However I also believe Dallas will make the Ducks earn it. That said, a Dallas Stars upset of Anaheim is also not beyond the realm of reasoning.
(3) Blues vs (5) Blackhawks- I like Chicago to win this series in six games even with the Blues having home ice. The Blackhawks are the defending Cup champions and have been down this road before. Chicago did stumble late in March and April, however this is one team that knows what to do once the playoffs begin and probably does not mind having to be road warriors. If Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane who are coming off of injuries are able to contribute at a high level, the rest of the team will feed off of that. Patrick Sharp is coming off of one of his best seasons in posting 34 goals. Marion Hossa is as rock solid of a player as a team can have with another outstanding season under his belt. Corey Crawford has shown he can win big games in net with the pressure on. St. Louis on the other hand overall had one of their better seasons in franchise history winning 52 games. However the Blues have also lost their last seven games and will be heading into the post season fighting a major team slump. St. Louis has players such as Alexander Steen, Kevin Shattenkirk, TJ Oshie and David Backes have had the best seasons of their careers. Ryan Miller having coming over recently from the Buffalo Sabres has given St. Louis a goalie who has also played in many pressure packed contests. However the Blues have to find a way to put the final weeks of the regular season behind them. In addition St. Louis will also need to find a way to beat a team that may have forgotten more ways to win a playoff series then they know.
(2) Avalanche vs (7) Wild- In this series I feel the Avs should take this series and I like them to win this in six. The Avs are a scary good group that will have home ice in the Mile High City of Denver for all series for however long they are in the post season (unless they play Anaheim). The Avs are a mixture of youth and experience with a Head Coach in Patrick Roy who only knows how to win and has made a very good living on it. Nathan McKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog, Ryan O’Reilly, Paul Stansy have all emerged as team leaders and are amongst some of the best the NHL has to offer. Matt Duchene unfortunately for the Avs will likely miss this series with a knee injury. Semyon Varlomov enters this series with a 93 percent save percentage. Minnesota meanwhile is lead by Jason Pominville, Zach Parise and Charlie Coyle who provide the Wild with a strong mixture of experience and youth. In the net the Wild have the reticently acquired Ilya Brizgolov who in 19 games has a 92 percent save percentage. The reason I like Colorado here is because to me they are just a loaded team that is only going to get a lot better over time if allowed to develop. They have a team that is not only a Cup Contender this season, but I can honestly see winning a cup in the next two to three years. The Avs are that good.
Eastern Conference- Briefly, I’m looking for top seeded Boston Bruins to handle the 8th seeded Detroit Red Wings in six games. Number two seed Pittsburgh will get a battle and all they can handle for seventh seeded Columbus, but I look for the Penguins to advance in six games. Tampa Bay and Montreal looks like an outstanding series in the making. For some reason Montreal to me will find a way to come out ahead in this series though I expect it to go the seven game distance. Philadelphia and the New York Rangers will also be a classic with only 93 miles separating the two heated rivals. I have to give this one to the Rangers in seven, but would not be surprised to see the Flyers find a way to come out on top.
...just my two cents...
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