2016 NHL playoffs: Kings vs. Sharks series preview
Regular season recap
Oct. 7: Sharks 5, Kings 1
Oct. 22: Kings 4, Sharks 1
Dec. 22: Sharks 5, Kings 3
Jan. 24: Kings 3, Sharks 2 (OT)
March 28: Sharks 5, Kings 2
Kings: W Marian Gaborik (knee, indefinite), D Alec Martinez (undisclosed, day-to-day), D Matt Greene (shoulder, indefinite), W Jordan Nolan (herniated disc, indefinite)
Sharks: D Matt Tennyson (concussion, indefinite)
Keys to a Kings victory
Jonathan Quick is rarely a question mark, but he will be in this series. The veteran stopper was owned by the Sharks this season, losing all three starts against them while posting a gruesome .845 save percentage and 4.40 goals-against average. He has to be better, much better, for the Kings to advance. He'll rely heavily on a set of blueliners that's nowhere near as good as the ones on L.A.'s Cup-winning teams, but it still managed to help the Kings finish third in the NHL in goals-against per game (2.34). Drew Doughty will focus on shutting down San Jose's Joe Thornton. If Doughty can win that battle, the Kings are in good shape. Jeff Carter will be the key to their own offensive hopes. He and linemate Tyler Toffoli combined for five goals and 10 points in their season series, and their speed will challenge a San Jose defense that slows down measurably when Brent Burns is off the ice. Special teams could give the Kings another edge. L.A. scored four power play goals on 20 chances against the Sharks, mirroring the Kings' overall success rate. But San Jose's 21st-ranked penalty kill was leaking high-danger chances towards the end of the season and seems vulnerable, especially if defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic isn't at 100 percent. Doughty and Toffoli each had nine power play goals to lead the Kings this season. Getting pucks, and bodies, to the net will be key.
Keys to a Sharks victory
Starting the series in Los Angeles might be the only advantage that San Jose needs. The Sharks were the NHL's best road team this season, winning 28 games away from home—tied for the second-most ever in league history. The key to that success was their resiliency. San Jose rallied from a second intermission deficit six times this season, with each of those wins coming on the road. They'll need that never-say-die sprit in this matchup ... assuming, of course, they ever fall behind. Their offense ranked among the league's best (2.89 goals-per game, fourth overall) and was particularly effective against the Kings, tallying 18 goals in five games. They might not need to score that many in this series, but they can. Joe Pavelski lit up the Kings for four goals and 10 points in the regular season. Thornton and Burns combined to score seven goals and 15 points. While all eyes will be on that trio, San Jose's secret weapon series might be Logan Couture. The Sharks were deeper, faster and more devastating when the oft-injured forward was in the lineup, going 32-15-5. With Doughty likely to focus on stopping Thornton, it's imperative that Couture's unit makes some noise against the Luke Schenn-Jake Muzzin defensive pair. In the end though, this series will swing on the play of former Kings backup Martin Jones, who posted a 3-1-1 record, .913 save percentage and 2.57 GAA against L.A. Not dazzling numbers, but they might not need to be. As long as he can keep pace with his mentor, Mr. Quick, the Sharks will win.
The Sharks were embarrassed by what happened two years ago, when they blew a 3-0 series lead to the Kings and became a punchline in the hockey world. There's nothing they'd love more than to exact a little revenge this time around ... but it won't happen. Jones may be the goalie of the future, but Quick is Mr. Right Now. Kings in seven.