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Sharks excited time to return to ice finally arriving

by Eric Gilmore

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- For Logan Couture, there was "a different feeling" when he arrived at the rink Monday morning for the San Jose Sharks' fourth straight practice since sweeping the Vancouver Canucks in the Western Conference quarterfinals.

No more doubt about what's next.

The Sharks learned Monday night that they'd face the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings in the conference semifinals. Early Tuesday, the NHL announced that the Sharks and Kings would play Game 1 Tuesday night at Staples Center.

The series opener can't come soon enough for the Sharks, who haven't played a game since May 7.

"We all want to play hockey right now," Couture said. "Guys were excited. We're anxious to get going tomorrow. Pretty pumped up."

The Sharks took two days off after sweeping the Vancouver Canucks before getting back to work.

"They are antsy," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "They haven't been involved in this type of break this year at all. This is the longest that's occurred. You can tell in practice they're like racehorses. They're ready to run."

After racing past Vancouver, the Sharks will likely face a much tougher challenge against the Kings, who beat the St. Louis Blues in six games, winning the final four.

"They're the champs," Sharks captain Joe Thornton said of the Kings. "We have to go down there and try to win some games. We're not looking to go down and sweep the champs. We just want to compete hard from Game 1 on and see if we can win."

McLellan knows better than to expect a smooth ride to the conference finals.

"We’re playing against the defending Stanley Cup champs. They’ve got home ice (advantage)," McLellan said. "We’re familiar with their game and what they do to be successful. That alone should keep you on your toes and keep you prepared to battle. There’s no doubt we’ll have to get our legs going and execute well early in the game. But as it goes on we expect to be a team that can compete hard in every area and stand up and battle to the bitter end. Whatever happens, happens. We’d like to be on the positive side."

The Sharks are very familiar with the Kings, their Pacific Division rival, which should help them get prepared quickly for Game 1. One of their biggest challenges will be finding a way to get the puck past goaltender Jonathan Quick, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy last year.

"We’ll get traffic there," Sharks forward Joe Pavelski said. "You know it’s going to be second and third opportunities the way that the League has been playing right now. You’re going to see a good goalie regardless of what team you’re seeing. He’s obviously at the top of his game. We have to go create chances and traffic in front of him when we get a chance."

This will be just the second time the Sharks and Kings have met in the postseason. Two years ago, San Jose beat Los Angeles in the quarterfinals in six games. Three of the Sharks' four wins came in overtime.

Thornton said he expects "a long, grueling series" against the Kings and former Sharks coach Darryl Sutter, who was hired by Los Angeles in December 2011 and promptly led his new team to a Stanley Cup championship.

"They're going to be physical," Couture said. "They're going to block shots. They're going to play hard. That's the way the Kings have played the last year and a half. It's going to be a challenge. We want to play physical. We want to play hard. We want to block shots, do whatever it takes. It's going to be two teams going really hard at each other."

"They have great goaltending, they play solid defense and they have four lines that can put the puck in the net," Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic said. "They have a lot of speed and a lot of size. They skate, they work hard and they’re physical. It will be tough."

The Sharks will likely have injured defenseman Jason Demers (left ankle) available for Game 1, but it's also likely that they'll stick with veteran defenseman Scott Hannan for the opener. Demers, who missed the final four regulation-season games and the entire Vancouver series, took part in an entire practice for the second straight day.

"It's more just getting my legs under me and just getting the hands back," Demers said. "Those are the first things to go. Yesterday I was a little tired, but today I felt pretty good. It was a short practice, but felt good. See how it goes tomorrow and go from there."

Forwards Martin Havlat (lower body) and Adam Burish (right hand) skated on their own before practice.

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