SAN JOSE, Calif.
-- The Sharks and Kings made a combined 37 trips to the Stanley Cup Playoffs before this season -- 24 of those by Los Angeles, which entered the NHL in 1967, and 13 by San Jose, which joined in 1991.
On Thursday at HP Pavilion, they'll meet in the postseason for the first time.
The hockey stars have aligned in California, setting the stage for the inaugural Sharks-Kings postseason collision and just the third all-California playoff series in NHL history.
To add more spice to this California hockey story, Anaheim is also in the playoff mix. So for the first time, all three of the state's NHL teams are in the postseason together. California, in fact, has one more team in the playoffs than Canada, another strange-but-true playoff fact.
"It just shows hockey's big out here in California," said Sharks captain Joe Thornton
, a native of Ontario. "A lot of players want to come out here and play. It's a destination place to play and, yeah, it's something special having three teams from California all in. Obviously we play the Kings, so it's a very exciting time for California."
This series marks the NHL's third Northern California vs. Southern California playoff affair. In 1969, the Kings beat the short-lived Oakland Seals in the first round in seven games.
The next all-California series didn't take place until 40 years later when Anaheim stunned the top-seeded Sharks 4-2 in the first round in 2009. The Sharks won the Presidents' Trophy that year, amassing 117 points before their painful ouster.
The wait for this NorCal vs. SoCal playoff series lasted only two years.
"It's exciting, initially for the simple fact that three California teams are in," Sharks coach Todd McLellan
said of the matchup. "I think that's something that our state can be proud of, not only at the National Hockey League level but also the minor hockey league level. I have two kids that play here in San Jose. I know that L.A. and Anaheim have very good programs, and it should only boost those hockey dreams that young kids have."
There's always been a rivalry of sorts between the Sharks and Kings, if only for their geographic proximity and the natural rivalry between fans and teams in Northern and Southern California. But the Sharks and Kings have made the playoffs in the same season just five times before this year.
"I think rivalries are built in playoffs," Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle
said. "It takes time to get actual rivalries, and I think this will be the start of what's to come for years down the road. The fans don't necessarily love each other and the players don't either. It's great for the sport and obviously it's great for California."
"It's going to be a good matchup," Sharks forward Patrick Marleau
said. "We haven't seen each other in the postseason before, but we've always had that little bit of a rivalry, so it's probably just going to get a little bit more heated."
California teams have combined to win exactly one Stanley Cup. Anaheim accomplished that feat in 2007 when it beat Minnesota, Vancouver, Detroit and Ottawa, dropping a total of only five games along the way. That team boasted a long list of stars, including Chris Pronger
, Scott Niedermayer
, Jean-Sebastian Giguere, Teemu Selanne
, Andy McDonald
¸ Ryan Getzlaf
and Corey Perry
Only one other California team, the 1993 Kings, made it to the Stanley Cup Final. That team beat Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto before falling to Montreal in five games. Fittingly for L.A., the '93 Kings had plenty of star power with players such as Wayne Gretzky
, Jari Kurri
, Tony Granato
, Paul Coffey
and Rob Blake
This year, the Kings are short on marquee players -- Anze Kopitar
, their biggest star, suffered a season-ending ankle injury last month -- but they still won 46 games and totaled 98 points. Anaheim had one more win and one more point, and San Jose had 48 wins and 105 points while winning its fourth straight Pacific Division crown.
"All good teams, all with a legit chance to make something happen here," Sharks forward Ryane Clowe
said. "I think it's great for the state."
"I'm just impressed with it," Boyle said of the California playoff trifecta. "I think this is an amazing place to play, not just here but obviously in L.A. and Anaheim -- they're doing a good job. I think the management's doing it right on all three teams. It's just great for hockey here. It's a great sport. It promotes the game. We obviously love playing here."