Like California? Like battles? If so, then, by golly, you're going to enjoy this playoff series between the San Jose Sharks and the Los Angeles Kings, the first time they've met since 2011.
Both clubs enter the second-round on four-game winning streaks, having breezed through first-round opponents that were supposed to give them a lot more trouble than they did. The Sharks swept the Vancouver Canucks. The Kings dropped the first two to the Blues, then found their bearings and won the next four.
In a way, the Sharks look a little like last year's Kings, after an underwhelming regular season and the way they metamorphosed into a juggernaut as soon as it ended. Suddenly, they're firing on all cylinders, and they look like a group that could win it all. But, on the flipside, this year's Kings look like last year's Kings too, since they're pretty much the same basic roster and they wear the same jersey and everything.
So who comes out ahead in the battle of California?
Los Angeles Kings (4) vs. San Jose Sharks (6)
May 14: San Jose Sharks at Los Angeles Kings, 10 p.m. ET.
May 16: San Jose Sharks at Los Angeles Kings, 10 p.m. ET.
May 18: Los Angeles Kings at San Jose Sharks, 9 p.m. ET
May 21: Los Angeles Kings at San Jose Sharks, 10 p.m. ET
May 23: San Jose Sharks at Los Angeles Kings*, 10:30 p.m. ET
May 26: Los Angeles Kings at San Jose Sharks* TBD
May 28: San Jose Sharks at Los Angeles Kings* TBD
The Sharks have, arguably, the most formidable centre depth chart in the entire postseason, with Logan Couture and Joes Pavelski and Thornton as the middlemen on their top three lines. In the first round, all three were dynamite, with Pavelski putting up 4 goals and 4 assists, Couture contributing 3 goals and 5 assists, and Thornton adding 1 goal and 5 assists. These point totals came, I remind you, in a playoff series that lasted four bloody games.
The Canucks were completely overmatched up the middle, as most teams are bound to be. But the Kings have a pretty decent group themselves, as Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, and Jarrett Stoll anchor their top three. These centre battles are going to be spectacular.
The balance in each club's top nine is amazing. The Sharks can send out Couture, Raffi Torres, and Patrick Marleau (who has opened the postseason like he opened the regular season, with a goal in every game). The Kings can roll Stoll, Trevor Lewis, and the unsinkable Dustin Penner. If the Sharks deploy Thornton, T. J. Galiardi, and and beastly defender turned beastly forward Brent Burns, the Kings can match with Kopitar, Dustin Brown, and Justin Williams. If Brown gets going, the Kings could win this matchup.
The Kings could send out Richards, Dwight King and Jeff Carter, who's been their best scorer so far. The Sharks can counter, as they likely will, with the speedy shutdown trio of Pavelski, Tommy Wingels, and Andrew Desjardins.
Basically, it's going to be a delight to watch these teams do battle. I'll give a slight edge to the Sharks, because their guys are scoring in bunches right now.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun did some stellar work against the Sedins in the first round, but against a team with more than one functioning line, the entire top-six is going to be tested. The Sharks spread out their minutes well in Round 1. It will be interesting to see if they're as able to roll all three pairings in this series as the Kings keep coming.
The Kings' blueline lives and dies with Drew Doughty, who remains one of the best defencemen in the world and is undoubtedly the best defenceman in this series. His ability to turn the play around quickly and beat a speedy forecheck will be the key versus the Sharks, who have one of the fastest forechecks in the league.
Expect San Jose to key on Doughty's partner, Robyn Regehr, who isn't quite as fast, but has done a good job of filling the Willie Mitchell role and being a strong defensive complement to Doughty. If the Sharks fail to make his footspeed an issue, this pairing could be the difference for LA.
Jonathan Quick had a few gaffes early in Round 1, but the reigning Conn Smythe winner got decidedly more Conn Smythey as the series went on, closing out the first round with a save percentage of .944 and a goals against average of 1.58.
Antti Niemi wasn't far behind, with a .937 save percentage and a GAA of 1.86. Granted, these are some pretty small sample sizes, but we know what both guys are capable of. Niemi was the Sharks' MVP during the season. Quick was the Kings' MVP the last time they won that Cup thing eveybody seems to want. Both guys are difference-makers.
PLAYERS THAT DESERVE AN ASTERISK
Patrick Marleau probably isn't going to continue to score in every game. The regular-season taught us that. As for the Kings, Slava Voynov is plus-5 with 2 goals on 7 shots. That will probably slow down a bit.
Todd McLellan made some extraordinary adjustments for the Sharks late in the year to get them to where they are now. He tends to be a little more hands-on with things like deployment and matchups than Darryl Sutter, but Sutter won the Stanley Cup last year, so I'd argue he knows what he's doing too.
In the regular season, San Jose's powerplay and penalty kill were superior to LA's, and thus far in the playoffs, their special teams have been even scarier better. They scored seven powerplay goals versus the Canucks.
Suffice it to say, stopping San Jose's PP from being that lethal is a top priority for LA. The Kings' penalty kill was good in the first round, allowing just 1 goal, but the Blues' powerplay isn't quite as potent as the Sharks. .
All told, LA doesn't want this to become a special teams series.
FIGHT WE'D LIKE TO SEE
A captain fight would be nice. So would Niemi vs. Quick. But if I'm being honest, what I want is a brawl akin to this fracas between the Kings and the Sharks in 1996-97.
The linesmen take a ton of punishment here.
This is going to be an incredibly even series. I wouldn't be surprised if they alternated wins all the way to the end. It would behoove the Kings to remember how to use their home-ice advantage, something they haven't had since 1992, 16 playoff series ago.
The Sharks are hot right now, but so are the Kings, and they remain, in my estimation, just a slightly better team, especially on the back-end, where Doughy's ability to neutralize San Jose's forecheck will be key.
Kings in 7.