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Sharks to rely on forward depth in playoffs

San Jose plans on using all four lines against Los Angeles

by Eric Gilmore / Correspondent

SAN JOSE -- From the day San Jose Sharks training camp opened, new coach Peter DeBoer began preaching the importance of having offensive depth and being able to rely on four lines.

DeBoer said he knew then that the Sharks would need forward depth in order to make a deep run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That's a formula he saw work so well for the Los Angeles Kings when they defeated the New Jersey Devils he coached in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final, and when the Kings won the Stanley Cup again in 2014.

Now DeBoer hopes San Jose can match up line-for-line against the Kings in their Western Conference First Round series, which begins with Game 1 at Staples Center on Thursday (10:30 p.m. ET; CNBC, CBC, TVA Sports).

"I think L.A. has really won being a four-line team," DeBoer said. "The identity of that team, you can't understate the importance of their third and fourth lines over the past five or six years and their [Stanley] Cup wins. They kind of set the bar, and that's where everyone else is trying to get to.

"I like the four lines we're able to roll out. I like the guys that we're going to have to make decision on who are sitting on the sidelines and potentially can go in and offer a different look if the guys that are in there don't get the job done. We've been working since Day One of camp in having that four-line depth that these types of teams have. I think we have that."

The Sharks' top line of center Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl is their most dangerous. They combined for 78 goals, 128 assists and 206 points. But San Jose is deep down the middle with Logan Couture centering the second line, Patrick Marleau the third line and Chris Tierney the fourth.

Couture is skating with Joonas Donskoi, a skilled rookie from Finland, and Joel Ward, one of the Sharks' top offseason acquisitions, who has 14 goals and 21 assists in 53 playoff games

"Ward's a playoff-type player," DeBoer said. "He's always elevated [his performance] this time of year. ... When the games get harder, he's a guy that's always excelled, and those guys are always hard to find."

Video: WPG@SJS: Marleau's tally gives Sharks the lead

Ward said his gritty, physical style of play is well suited for the playoffs.

"You try to get to the front of the net," said Ward, who had 21 goals and 23 assists this season. "I think body positioning is pretty key in front. Just anticipating and knowing where to go helps a little bit. A lot of pucks are thrown at the net in the playoffs, more so than usual. I'm just trying to get to those open areas and just try to find those pucks at guys' feet."

The Sharks added veteran forward depth days before the NHL Trade Deadline when they got Nick Spaling, another gritty player, from the Toronto Maple Leafs. He's played in 33 NHL playoff games. Spaling and Tommy Wingels, who led Sharks forwards with 203 hits, will flank Tierney in Game 1.

Matt Nieto, one of the Sharks' fastest skaters, and Melker Karlsson, a free-agent pickup last season from Sweden, will skate with Marleau.

"I think we've had stretches this year where you've really seen depth come through and pull us along," Pavelski said. "On some of our road trips it's showed through. ... There's just new faces, and that's the biggest thing. We seem to have a deeper four-line team."

DeBoer said he plans to keep using four lines throughout the playoffs.

"We've been consistent all year," DeBoer said. "The last thing I'm going to do is change my philosophy on how we do things going into the playoffs. We're aware of their lines. They are in-game decisions. We have four lines that if they get stuck on the ice against anybody that I'm not going to panic and I don't think our guys should. If we're getting eaten up in some type of matchup we'll make adjustments during the game."

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