| Sharks finally get playoff
series with LA
Inter-state rivals set to square
Its taken twenty seasons, but the Sharks finally
get a chance to compete against their in-state rivals, the Los Angeles Kings,
in a playoff series. San Jose has played every other team in the Pacific
division in at least one playoff series over the past two decades, but until
this year, the Sharks have never locked horns in a do-or-die series against the
teams arguably their biggest rival.
||Game 1: LA @ SJ
||Game 2: LA @ SJ
||Game 3: SJ @ LA
||Game 4: SJ @ LA
||*Game 5: LA @ SJ
||*Game 6: SJ @ LA
||*Game 7: LA @ SJ
| * - if necessary
With the Chicago Blackhawks
losing on Sunday, the Sharks get the Kings for the first time in team history
and perhaps the most fitting scenario for San Jose. It was Wayne Gretzky, then
a King, who lobbied to bring more hockey to California, and the Bay Area.
The rivalries the Sharks established with the Dallas Stars, Anaheim
Ducks and Phoenix Coyotes have been driven by playoff battles, but none of
those compare with the regional animosity between Northern and Southern
California. Both halves of California love to one-up the other, so a hockey
playoff series finally pegs the two against each other in a series that fans
have long awaited.
Sharks fans have despised the Kings from day one.
There are no Beat An-a-heim chants rocking the Tank. The closest
thing to venom youll hear about the Dallas Stars is a chorus of
boos anytime the word Star is sung during the National
Anthem. Dont even talk about the Coyotes. Phoenix can barely hold on to
their team, so why would Sharks fans even bother hating on a team thatll
probably be out of the Pacific Division should the relocate to Hamilton or
Its all about hating the Kings and everything
thats plastic about Southern California. Northern Californians love
giving So-Cal the business because its easy. The regional rivalry is
easy. The Kings ineptitude over the years is a softball for Sharks fans.
The feelings of Kings fans are probably mutual, especially given the
fact that the Kings have wallowed in mediocrity for the past decade and have
had to consistently live with the fact that the Sharks have been more
Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi is a storyline that
adds a little flavor to the opening round series. Lombardi was unceremoniously
fired as the Sharks GM after San Jose tripped a decade into their quest for the
Lombardi would like nothing better than to knock off his former
employer in a playoff series. Add the fact that the Sharks are a two-seed, and
a first-round upset would make Lombardis year. The fact of the matter is
the Sharks are heavily favored in this series for a few reasons.
and foremost is the Sharks late season run. Theyre firing on all
cylinders and have shored up their biggest question mark on the blueline. The
Kings are also battling injury woes that will leave them without their top
scoring threat in Anze Kopitar, who broke his ankle four weeks ago. Justin
Williams has also been out due to a dislocated shoulder, but LAKingsInsider.com
reports that Williams has been cleared by doctors to resume practicing.
The Sharks went 3-1-2 in the regular season series against the Kings
11/15: Kings 3 @ Sharks 6
12/27: Kings 4 @ Sharks 0
1/1 Sharks 1 @ Kings 0
1/26: Sharks 2 @ Kings 3 (SO)
3/24: Sharks 3
@ Kings 4 (SO)
4/4 Kings 1 @ Sharks 6
The last game between the
two teams may have set the tone for what could be a short series. San Jose
chased Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick early in the 2nd period after the Sharks
put four pucks past him. Los Angeles also wont have the shoot out to fall
back on. They took two of their three wins against the Sharks in the shootout.
Its taken 20 years to get to this series, but
the Sharks have the advantage of a roster whos nucleus is maturing at the
right time. Guys like Patrick Marleau are hitting their stride. Take Koiptar
and Williams out of the equation and you have a much different matchup than
guys like Lombardi would prefer.
Rivalries aside, this just seems like
the Sharks year. Its been a while since we had to hear Lombardi explain
why his team failed to execute, but I hope we get an encore here shortly.
In case you missed it, the Sharks
awarded goaltender Antti Niemi with the sharks Player of the Year Award before
the teams win over Phoenix on Saturday night. Its funny how things
can play out sometimes. Niemi grabbed control of the Sharks goaltending reigns
after Antero Niittymaki suffered an injury in January.
The rest is
history. Niemi led the team with 35 wins in net this season after starting the
year in a platoon situation with Niittymaki. Evgeni Nabokov got his shot in
2000 when Steve Shields suffered an injury. That year, Nabokov won the same
award bestowed on Niemi and would become a mainstay in San Jose for 10 seasons
after Shields misfortune.
Niemi inherits a much stronger cast of
teammates, and already has the one thing that eluded Nabokov: A Stanley Cup.
Niemi wasnt the only reason the Sharks turned the season around,
but he was a big part of it. Its going to be a lot of fun to see if he
can add to his list of post season hardware.
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