Sharks-Kings Series Preview

Sharks-Kings Series Preview

The Kings have had the upper hand in each of their last two playoff meetings with the Sharks, but will a late-season swoon make matters different this time around?

Two of the perennial powerhouses in the Pacific Division face off on Thursday night in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. According to online sports book Bovada.lv, veteran-laden Los Angeles boasts odds of -145 to advance.

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Down the stretch, however, the two-time champion looked extremely vulnerable. Daryl Sutter’s club was outscored 12-4 in the third period in a seven-game stretch from March 26 to April 5. The Kings also failed to protect a 3-0 lead against Winnipeg in the regular-season finale, costing themselves the division crown. For too long, goaltender Jonathan Quick (40-23-5 with a 2.22 GAA and .918 save percentage) has almost singlehandedly kept the squad among the league’s elite.

Will San Jose finally be able to take advantage, though? Los Angeles eliminated the Sharks in seven games in 2013. Then, the following spring, coach Todd McLellan saw his bunch fritter away a 3-0 series lead against the Kings.

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McLellan, of course, no longer resides behind the bench at SAP Center. It’s Peter DeBoer’s job now, and he the Sharks swim with his undeniable imprint. After sitting at 18-18-2 on Jan. 9, they morphed into one of the second half’s most dangerous attacks. Thirty-six-year-old center Joe Thornton defied reason and amassed 63 assists. Linemate Joe Pavelski, in his first season as captain, tallied at least 30 goals and 30 helpers for the fourth time.

Still, perhaps no one means more to San Jose’s chances than netminder Martin Jones. The former Bruin made 19 saves and secured the win in his very first encounter with the Kings back on Oct. 7, then provided a harbinger of things to come with back-to-back shutouts vs. Anaheim and Washington in his next two appearances. He finished with a 37-23-4 record, 2.27 GAA and .918 save percentage.

Granted, Jones doesn’t boast the playoff pedigree of Quick. Nor has he been forced to quiet Anze Kopitar (Los Angeles’ leading scorer for the ninth consecutive year) for an entire round. But there’s just a different feeling in the California air on this occasion, and the Kings cannot point to much offensive punch beyond Kopitar and Tyler Toffoli. Conversely, DeBoer relishes all four lines. Unless Quick somehow summons his finest work to date, the Sharks seem ready to make the proverbial leap.

SERIES NHL FREE PICK: SHARKS +125

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