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Sharks plan to break out greatest hits against Kings

by Eric Gilmore

SAN JOSE -- The last time the San Jose Sharks faced the Los Angeles Kings, they had a franchise-record 52 hits and captured a 2-1 victory April 3 at SAP Center.

The Sharks matched the Kings' physicality and actually gave more than they took that night, doling out 20 more hits than Los Angeles.

When the Sharks open the Stanley Cup Playoffs against Los Angeles on Thursday at SAP Center in Game 1 of their Western Conference First Round series (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS2, FS-W, CSN-CA), they know the hits have to keep coming.

"We have to be physical against this team," Sharks defenseman Jason Demers said Wednesday after practice. "They're a bigger team, but also we have size and can skate with them. I think we've just got to show we can push back too. Obviously we can't get carried away and take too many penalties because of their very good power play. We're emphasizing finishing our checks and just making it a hard series.

"A lot of people are saying it's going to go long, so might as well make it a long, hard series on them and make them earn everything they get."

Sharks forward Tommy Wingels had a game-high 10 hits in that April 3 game. Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, James Sheppard and Brent Burns each had five.

"It's going to be a physical series," said Thornton, who couldn't help but smile at the thought of playing the Kings. "They're physical. It's a big rivalry, so it's going to be a physical series. It's the postseason, plus you're playing another California team, so it's not hard to get up for, that's for sure.

"We know they're going to battle hard, they're going to play good, defensive hockey and hit. They're just a hard team to play against. It's no surprise. It's going to be a battle."

Last season, the Kings eliminated the Sharks in a Western Conference Semifinals series that lasted seven games. Neither team lost on home ice, with the Kings beating the Sharks 2-1 in Game 7 at Staples Center. Five of the seven games were decided by one goal.

Los Angeles won three of the five games during this regular season; one of those games was decided by more than one goal.

"They've always been one of the best defensive teams in the League," Wingels said of the Kings. "We've talked about how we need to limit their chances against. These games, if you look at last year's playoffs and our games this year, are 2-1, 3-2 kind of games. Very rarely do you see more than three goals scored on either side. You got to make your opportunities count when you get them.

"It's a good matchup because of the history that's gone on this year and in series past. Obviously it's two teams that may dislike each other and it's a good rivalry. I'm sure the fans are loving it, and as players these are the series that we want to be a part of."

Sharks coach Todd McLellan declined again to announce his starting goaltender for Game 1 -- Antti Niemi or Alex Stalock -- but said he'll do so Thursday and the starter has "known for a while."

Niemi faced many more shots than Stalock during practice and handled most of the special teams drills. Asked if that was a sign he would be in net Thursday night, Niemi smiled and said, "I don't know."

After skating on the top line with Thornton and Burns on Tuesday, rookie forward Tomas Hertl was back on the third line Wednesday with center James Sheppard and Wingels. Joe Pavelski returned to Thornton's line after centering the third line Tuesday.

Hertl returned to action for the final two regular-season games after missing nearly four months with a knee injury.

"He is getting better and better," McLellan said of Hertl. "Some of that is our mindset. We begin to think of him as a regular player. You don’t think of him as an injured guy working his way back in. If he feels that from us and from his teammates, it even moves him along quicker and further."

Veteran forward Raffi Torres, according to McLellan, "looked even better" Wednesday than he did during practice Tuesday.

"You can probably interpret that as him being ready to go," McLellan said of Torres, who played five games in the regular-season after having knee surgery in September.

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