There was one prevailing thought Sunday night as the Ducks finished off another Pacific Division title: "Here we go again." Lost in the exasperation over the Los Angeles Kings' playoff rematch with the San Jose Sharks, however, was just how unpredictable this series will be. It's not just the evenness of the matchup, though. It's that no two showdowns have been the same.
Should we expect a series in the vein of 2013 (24 combined goals in seven games) or 2014 (48 combined goals in seven games)? The answer should be somewhere in the middle, of course, but past returns indicate that we might be in for a 2014 redux. (Probably without the whole #ItWasThreeZero thing, though.)
For now, let's look at the season series for clues.
Game 1: Sharks 5, Kings 1 (October 7)
Is there any reason to even consider this game? The Kings played three defensemen (Matt Greene, Jeff Schultz, Christian Ehrhoff) who won't appear in this series. Veterans Dainius Zubrus, Rob Scuderi, Roman Polak, Vincent Lecavalier, Kris Versteeg, and Luke Schenn were all flailing away on other teams. Nick Shore scored! It was like another universe! Plus, there were fourteen power plays. There may not be fourteen power plays in this series. Unless you assume that Milan Lucic and Dustin Brown will go after Logan Couture like they did in this one. (RECAP)
Game 2: Kings 4, Sharks 1 (October 22)
As much as I enjoyed this result at the Shark Tank, I guess we have to rule this one out, too. Though LA's defense looked a lot more recognizable in this one, Paul Martin was missing for the Sharks, Jhonas Enroth got the start, and again, you can throw away October when you make predictions in April. Too bad; I hear the Ducks were brutal in October. (RECAP)
Game 3: Sharks 5, Kings 3 (December 22)
By this point, LA had more than rounded into form, with an eight-point lead on second place San Jose. So it's fair to analyze what went wrong here. There were two problems, and neither of them have gone away...
- The Joes and Co. The Co., in this case, being Brent Burns. He had three points in this one, as did Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, and they essentially beat the Kings on their own. All three exceeded 75 points this year, while no other Sharks even hit the 50-point mark. (Logan Couture probably would have hit 50 had he played a full season, but that would still leave them with fewer 50-point scorers than LA.)
- The Sharks' power play. The third-best unit in the league scored twice in four chances, which included the game-tying and game-winning goals.
Early blueprint: lock down Thornton and Pavelski, keep Burns from firing away, and don't let the PP go to work. Maybe this didn't tell us anything revolutionary, but it's a plan! (RECAP)
Game 4: Kings 3, Sharks 2 (OT) (January 24)
This was the game which featured a late Lecavalier equalizer. Milan Lucic was actually suspended for this one, meaning that wingers like Marian Gaborik, Dustin Brown, and Tanner Pearson got a heavier dose of responsibility. In fact, all three were on the ice with Vinny for his goal, and Gaborik scored the winner in OT. Chris mentioned in the recap that Kopitar and Toffoli combined to form LA's best line, but this underscores the need for contributions from less prominent forwards. Also, LA nearly lost this game after a completely dominant start; cash in when you can! (RECAP)
Game 5: Sharks 5, Kings 2 (March 28)
Jonathan Quick lost all three of his starts against the Sharks this year, but the save he made to close out the second period remains absolutely stunning, no? Quick was actually quite good in this one, and LA got off to a fine start. Unfortunately, they had deeper problems. Chris?
Multiple times they had control of the puck only to be pressured by a forecheck into a bad decision or downright surprised by the pressure. It was a strange counterpoint to the extremely crisp passes they strung together for breakouts- sometimes even on the same shift.
Jake Muzzin and Anze Kopitar were among the players who succumbed to SJ pressure in this game. Combine it with a ton of blocked shots and another power play goal, and the Sharks made their chances count. They had three five-goal games against the Kings this season, and if the defense can't stand up in the face of the Shark attack, they could be in trouble. On the other hand, if Quick is in form and LA can take advantage of the early pressure they often generated, they should be all right. (RECAP)