Series breakdown: Sharks (2) vs. Kings (7)
Regular season series: tied 3-3
Nov. 15: Kings 3 at Sharks 6
Dec. 27: Kings 4 at Sharks 0
Jan. 1: Sharks 1 at Kings 0
Jan. 26: Sharks 2 at Kings 3 (SO)
March 24: Sharks 3 at Kings 4 (SO)
April 4: Kings 1 at Sharks 6
Snapshot: If it's springtime, flowers are blooming as the Sharks wilt. Ah, but this will be the year in Silicon Valley when someone excels besides Google and Steve Jobs, you say? We've heard that one before with the local hockey team. There is, however, every reason to think that a Stanley Cup could be in the near future for the second-seeded Sharks, and every reason to cynically say, "Sorry, not going there again" after looking at their past. The Sharks have had better teams than this one most likely, but they've never been enough to get to the Cup final. So maybe -- at least this is their fans' new reverse-jinx thinking -- the bigotry of soft expectations will somehow produce the ultimate winner this time around. The big pieces still seem to be in place for it to happen. Joe Thornton is not only still a premier playmaker, he's become a better defensive player in the pivot. Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley still are top goal scorers, and in the Sharks' net is the man (Antti Niemi) who hoisted the Cup in Chicago 10 months ago. The defense is fine. But still ... all those playoff disappointments!
The Kings have one run to the Cup, in 1993 during the Great One's Hockeywood days, and that's it. There's been plenty of springtime disappointment in Los Angeles, too. It's now a bummer to everyone who cares about hockey there -- a bigger number than you might expect (the Kings played to 99.7-percent capacity at the Staples Center this season) -- that top center Anze Kopitar won't participate in the playoffs due to a broken ankle. At least the defense has two young studs in Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson, and Jonathan Quick is strong between the pipes. You never know what will happen when two hoo-doo'ed teams meet.
Spotlight's on: Joe Thornton. Jumbo Joe shed some of his playoff minnow reputation with a good first two rounds last spring. Yet, his playoff scoring average (65 points in 91 career games) remains well below that of his regular-season output (1,001 points in 995 games). He's still only 31, but the window of opportunity to prove that he's a big-time player in games beyond April is getting smaller with every passing playoff disappointment.
X-Factor for Sharks: Antti Niemi. Any goalie probably deserves an "X" on his uniform for the important factor they can always become in the playoffs. But Niemi brings with him the aura of being the only human on the planet to have backstopped a team to a Cup in the last 12 months. Yes, he played on a Chicago team that supported him well, but Cup Cred matters to the players in front of a goalie during the playoffs.
X-Factor for Kings: Drew Doughty. Without a monster playoff showing from the uber-talented young blueliner, the Kings are toast. With Kopitar out, they will need that much more from young leaders such as Doughty, whose season (40 points, down from 59) was seen as something of an underachievement.
The pick: Sharks in five.
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