LOS ANGELES (AP) — Almost every NHL contender has a few ghosts of past failures that they must exorcise on the path toward the Stanley Cup.
The San Jose Sharks have a monster in their closet, and they’ve got to face it in the first round.
Just two years ago, the Los Angeles Kings rallied from a 0-3 series deficit in the first round to eliminate San Jose in humiliating fashion at the Shark Tank. The momentum propelled the Kings to their second championship, and it sent the Sharks on a spiral that bottomed out last spring with their first non-playoff season in over a decade.
Although Peter DeBoer wasn’t on the Sharks’ bench for that collapse, the coach knows all about it, and he hopes his players don’t let it linger in their minds.
“Obviously there are a lot of teams left in the wake of the Kings who aren’t leaving with good feelings over the last five or six years,” DeBoer said. “It’s a great test. You have to go through the best to win this trophy, and we’re starting from one of the best.”
Few NHL opponents know each other better than these California rivals. They’re about to face off in the postseason for the fourth time in six seasons, with several core players on both teams remaining from every series.
The Sharks won the first two meetings in 2011 and 2013, but the Kings made up for it in 2014. Los Angeles rode that momentum past Anaheim, Chicago and the New York Rangers to the franchise’s second Stanley Cup championship, but missed the postseason along with San Jose last spring after three years of playoff grind finally caught up.
“It doesn’t affect us at all,” Kings coach Darryl Sutter said of the 2014 series. “The teams are pretty familiar with each other. We’re close in terms of style, standings, all the critical stats, if you take any of that, if it makes any difference at all. I think it doesn’t. It starts over. Everybody’s at zero. The roster changes. If you’re going back to two years ago, then two years ago it didn’t affect it when the Sharks beat the Kings. It doesn’t. It has no bearing on anything.”
Here are some more things to watch when the series opens at Staples Center on the day after Kobe Bryant’s retirement game:
uJONER’S TURN: Martin Jones will start the series opener for the Sharks in a familiar building. Jones won a championship ring during two years as Jonathan Quick’s backup, appearing in two Kings playoff games in 2014. Realizing that the gifted goalie known in LA as “Joner” would never supplant Quick, the Kings traded him to Boston last summer in a deal for Milan Lucic, and the Bruins shipped him to San Jose. “It’s a fun building to play in, (but) I think the novelty of playing the old team has kind of worn off,” Jones said.
uUP THE MIDDLE: The Kings and Sharks have two of the NHL’s best collections of playmaking centers. Joe Thornton, Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau center San Jose’s top three lines, while Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter and Vincent Lecavalier line up down the middle for Los Angeles. Both teams rely heavily on the skills of their pivots to generate offense. The 36-year-old Thornton is having a renaissance season, while Kopitar and Carter have been outstanding down the stretch.
uDEPTH CHARGE: The Sharks realize they can’t take a break against the Kings and Sutter, who methodically rolls four lines and grinds away at every opponent. The same strategy led the Kings to two Cups, and Lecavalier’s midseason arrival has given a boost to the scoring production on Los Angeles’ third line. “I think LA has really won being a four-line team,” DeBoer said. “You can’t understate the importance of their third and fourth lines over the past five or six years and their Cup wins. They kind of set the bar, and that’s where everyone else is trying to get to.”
uMISSING OUT: The roles are reversed in this series from past playoff matchups, with the Kings generally considered the favorite after leading the Pacific Division for most of the season. The Sharks are still regrouping from last season’s reset and subsequent revitalization, yet they finished only four points behind the Kings and five behind first-place Anaheim.