It would definitely not be a stretch to consider this series the marquee match-up of the first round of the 2014 playoffs. The two California rivals would be facing off for the third time in four post-seasons, and not without their own recent run-ins to add fuel to the fire. Whether it be Dustin Brown's collision with Tomas Hertl or Raffi Torres concussing Jarret Stoll, the two teams headed into this divisional match-up full of fury and hype.
1. The Kings did not arrive on time...
I literally can't explain this one. The Sharks were excellent in games 1 and 2, yes. Of this there is no question. Were they so good that the best defensive team in the league simply could not contain them? I don't buy it. While some people say it was predictable, I don't see how the Kings suddenly allowing 6.5 goals against is within the realm of reasonable expectations. I can't explain why the Kings were so miserably bad to begin this series, but I do not believe it had anything to do with them being outclassed or an inferior team. It's just one of those weird things that can happen when you boil an entire season down to a small segment of games. One otherwise good team played uncharacteristically bad while another good team played great. It happens sometimes.
2. ... but they might be here now.
Even after rebounding a bit in games 3 and 4, the Kings were still getting obliterated on the defensive side of the puck. They had no answer for the Sharks' attack and allowed 20+ scoring chances in 4 consecutive games for the very first time this season. To give you insight into how much of an absolute outlier that number is: I don't have to look up whether my claim is true. I know the Kings didn't do that this season. In fact, I think you'd be hard-pressed to find an instance of the Kings allowing that kind of offense even *2* games in a row. However, game 5 marked a return to normalcy. The Kings allowed just 14 chances, and most of those came while the game was essentially out of reach. Even better, the Kings allowed just 5 scoring chances at 5v5 play while notching 14 of their own. Games 3 and 4 saw a slight shift toward Kings' hockey, but game 5 was the full monty.
3. Jonathan Quick has not been that bad lately...
For the first two games of this series, the best word to describe Jonathan Quick's play would probably be "putrid." "Abhorrent" is a good one. "Appalling" is another. I think you get the idea. Even as a guy that is not a huge fan of Quick, it was probably the worst two games I've ever seen him play consecutively. Game 3 is a game that looks awful for him on paper, but definitely was not in actuality. The Kings potted 3 goals and blew a couple of leads in losing to the Sharks in overtime, and bizarre goals against drew critical eyes toward Quick's play. However, Quick was certainly not the culprit in game 3, and "rebounded" by posting back-to-back solid performances in games 4 and 5. Quick's 5v5 SV% has improved every game of the series, and it appears that we can at least rely on him enough to not blow the game outright in game 6 and potentially game 7.
4. ... but Antti Niemi most certainly has.
Over his last 37 shots faced at even strength (previous 2 games), the Sharks' netminder has allowed 6 goals. For comparison's sake, Jonathan Quick has allowed 5 goals over his previous 74 shots faced at 5v5 play (3 games). Though Niemi's numbers from the first three games don't seem terrible outright, they were buoyed by the Kings' complete inability to generate offense in games 1 and 2. Through those two games, the Kings had created just 16 scoring chances in all situations. In spite of this, Niemi faltered, allowing 5 goals in those two games. Just one of those came on a bona fide scoring opportunity. Whenever the opportunity has truly presented itself, Niemi has been a detriment to his team. With that said, starting young backup Alex Stalock would be an ill-advised move. Long-time Sharks like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle have more than enough pressure on their shoulders already without worrying about what's going through the head of whichever netminder is patrolling the pipes. Goalie controversies in the playoffs rarely ever work out well for the team going through them, and I'd wager that the Sharks are more than aware of this.
5. San Jose's power play is really good.
Well, duh. They are currently generating 71.7 shots per 60 minutes of power play time, good for third best in the playoffs to this point. The Kings were merely a middle-of-the-pack team at preventing shots while shorthanded this season, so it's certainly no surprise that the Sharks' power play has been able to exploit them a bit. Perhaps the only reason things are not worse for the Kings here so far is goaltending. The Kings have turned in an extremely respectable (slightly lucky?) .907 SV% while shorthanded. If this were the regular season, that would give the Kings the second best PK SV% in the league. It was predicted that the Sharks' power play would be the great equalizer to the Kings slightly superior puck possession. Though the series has most certainly not played out as anyone would have expected, the lethality of the Sharks' power play cannot be questioned. In fact, though the Kings out-chanced the Sharks by 9 at 5v5 play during game 5, the overall scoring chance total was separated by just 1. San Jose rattled off 8 scoring chances during their power play time, and it's certainly a point of concern for the Kings as the series shifts back to LA.