Kings vs. Sharks: Through Three Games
Through three games the Kings/Sharks Western Conference Semifinal has been nothing short of fantastic. Entering the series was the Stanley Cup defending champions who disposed of the St. Louis Blues in six games despite falling behind 2-0; the Sharks entered red hot as a team drenched with momentum after easily sweeping the Canucks 4-0.
The two Californian teams play rough styles of hockey that aren't always pretty but are effective for playoff hockey. The Kings won the first two games in different fashion, the first behind the perfect play of Jonathan Quick who shut out the Sharks facing 35 shots and secondly behind some late game heroics in a spectacular comeback win.
Last night the Sharks squeeked out a 2-1 victory in San Jose on a power play goal and gritty effort by their young star, Logan Couture. Last night's game was pivotal for the Sharks, falling 3-0 to anyteam is practically unsurmountable. Moving forward in the series anything can happen but some trends over the past three game will certainly be evident.
Phenomenal Goaltending: Jonathan Quick and Antti Niemi are no stragners to postseason excellence. The two goalies have led their teams (Niemi with the Blackhawks in 2010) to Lord Stanley's cup and are the keystone to their teams' success.
Over the past three games both goalies have come up huge facing a barrage of shots and bodies. The team moving forward will be the one which capitilizes on the offensive end. With the way the netminders are playing high scoring chances have to be finished because anything else will be smothered.
Quick has faced over thirty shots every game (35,31,40; respectively) and has compensated for the Kings' at times lack luster play. The Sharks will enter game four with loads of confidence after scoring three goals on Quick in game two and winning last night's game. While Quick has proven he can lead the Kings through the playoffs he will need help from the penalty kill, defense, and most importantly on the scoreboard.
Niemi's efforts have been a bit overshadowed by Quick's performance. However, the Sharks' goalie has kept his team in every game and despite a 30 second lapse in game two (giving up two goals in thirty seconds on Kings' powerplays) Niemi has been outstanding.
Importance of Powerplays: What's the best way to score on goalies standing on their heads? Playing with a man advantage.
Game three ended in overtime when Logan Couture scored 1:26 into the period. The Kings committed two penalties late in the third period giving themselves an uphill battle in the overtime period. Down two men the Kings were able to kill the first penalty but fell short seconds later when the Sharks still had a one man advantage.
The powerplay units for both teams have been inconsistent. When a team has scored a powerplay goal in the series the team has won. Through three games Los Angeles is 3/9 on extra man opportunities and San Jose is 2/12.
Since both teams bolster physical rosters penalties are synonymous with each team's brand of play. Moving forward the team committing the fewest amount of unnecessary penalties will have a distinct advantage.
In games two and three the losing team has comitted a delay of game penalty ultimately resulting in their loss. Penalties are always going to happen - sometimes they need to be committed - but penalties due to fatigue or lack of focus produce devastating results.
Home Ice Advantage: The old adage is that anything can happen in the playofffs, which is true, but both teams identity of lethal home play and less than stellar road records has continued from the regular season.
The Kings and Sharks had two of the best home records during the regular season: Los Angeles was 19-4-1 in the Staples Center and San Jose was 17-2-5 in the Shark Tank. Through the postseason the Kings and Sharks are undefeated at home, the Kings at 5-0; the Sharks, 3-0.
The road seems to be a different story, during the regular season the Kings and Sharks only had eight wins a piece when traveling. The Kings three playoff loses have occured when away from Los Angeles (2 in St. Louis, 1 in San Jose) and same going for the Sharks who have only lost two games, both at the Staples Center.
It's important to note that the road to the Kings' championship run occured because of a phenomenal road victory. If either team wants to make a serious run for the Cup they'll have to put forward better performances away from their home towns.
^Dorothy never won the Stanley Cup
Game four takes place Tuesday night at 7:30 in San Jose.