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Healthy Sharks thriving against physical Kings

by Corey Masisak

LOS ANGELES -- The San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings have engaged in an incredibly physical Western Conference First Round series, but the Sharks are also relatively healthy.

Health is a relative term in the NHL at this time of year, but compared to other top contenders in the West, San Jose has been fortunate despite the rugged nature of its three victories, with the latest 4-3 in overtime Tuesday.

"We're like everybody else. There is some bumps and bruises floating around every team," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "If you're not bumped and bruised, you're probably out. That's just the way it is. It comes with the territory."

The Sharks lead the best-of-7 series 3-0 and have a chance to close it out Thursday in Game 4 at Staples Center (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, RDS, TSN, FS-SW, PRIME). Unless something changes between now and then, San Jose will have everyone available to play it had at the beginning of the series.

The Sharks' only unavailable player is forward Adam Burish, who is out with a hand injury. He could be ready to play at some point during the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but he might not have a place in the lineup if everyone is healthy.

Defenseman Justin Braun left the Sharks bench at one point during Game 3 but was able to take two shifts in overtime and said he's fine for Thursday.

"With our team, there were a lot of injuries during the season," Sharks forward Logan Couture said. "A lot of guys missed some games. You come back energized, Tomas [Hertl], Raffi [Torres], myself. The Olympic break was nice for me personally to go back home and spend time with my family and refresh and get away from hockey and come back for the push at the end of the season and now the playoffs. I think as a group we feel pretty good."

There was plenty of attention paid to the number of hits in Game 1 (121 officially), and it hasn't relented in the next two.

Hits can be a volatile statistic from building to building, but the Sharks and Kings have been trying to wear down the other whenever possible. Los Angeles has a well-earned reputation as one of the heaviest teams in the NHL because of its style of play.

The Sharks don't have the same reputation, but maybe they should, and this series might go a long way to changing any perceptions. San Jose is not short on large bodies or players willing to throw theirs around.

"The thing about this series is you're seeing it all spread it out," Sharks forward Mike Brown said. "You're seeing your [Patrick] Marleau, your [Joe] Thornton, the top guys are finishing their checks, and that's what gets the rest of the guys going, when your skill guys are doing stuff like that. You're seeing it from all four lines. You're seeing the physicality, so it is one of the most physical series I've been in."

The Sharks have an opportunity not afforded to many teams at this juncture of the season. If they can knock out the Kings in Game 4, it could grant San Jose a week of rest before the second round begins.

There was plenty of talk from the Sharks about expecting the Kings' best game and how the last one in a series is always the toughest to win. It will almost certainly be another rough one, and wanting to avoid more of these battles with Los Angeles is a wise goal for San Jose.

"Both teams are competing hard," McLellan said. "They are playing a physical-type game. If you make a play, you tend to pay for it. That's part of the game of the playoff-type atmosphere that's created between these two teams. The rivalry has been growing for years between these teams."

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