One season after missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the San Jose Sharks have gotten some instant gratification, eliminating the Los Angeles Kings in five games in their best-of-7 Western Conference First Round series and advancing to the second round.
The Sharks, who defeated the Kings 6-3 in Game 5 at Staples Center on Friday, face the winner of the first-round series between the Anaheim Ducks and Nashville Predators, where the Ducks lead 3-2.
San Jose avenged a bitter first-round loss to Los Angeles in 2014, when they took a 3-0 series lead but dropped the final four games. The Kings also beat the Sharks in a second-round series in 2013 that went seven games.
"It feels great," Sharks first-year coach Peter DeBoer said Friday. "I haven't been around here for some of the stuff that's gone on in the past. I'm sure for some guys, they felt like we exorcised some demons tonight, but I think for the group in general, it was just a well-earned victory.
"To come in against this team, who we all have tremendous respect for, what they've done the last four years, two Stanley Cup [championships], and win three games in this building, I think is a great testament to the character of our group."
Here are five reasons the Sharks advanced to the second round:
1. Joe Pavelski: The first-year captain scored a series-high five goals, including San Jose's first goal of the series on the power play in the first period of a 4-3 Game 1 victory, minutes after Jake Muzzin had given Los Angeles a 1-0 lead. Pavelski scored the game-winner 17 seconds into the third period, skating ahead of Anze Kopitar and beating Jonathan Quick on a wraparound.
Pavelski scored San Jose's first goal in a 2-1 win in Game 2 on a snap shot, had a power-play goal from close range in the second period of the 3-2 victory in Game 4, and in the third period of Game 5 he took a long stretch pass, raced to the right circle, faked and beat Quick through the five hole. That gave San Jose a 5-3 lead with 7:36 left.
"Joe's been great all year," DeBoer said. "That's why he's our captain. He's outstanding. He sets the tone for us, and he did it again tonight."
2. Block party: The Sharks ranked sixth in the NHL during the regular season in blocked shots, and they continued doing so at a high rate against the Kings. They blocked 15 shots in Game 1, 28 in Game 2, 18 in Game 3, 25 in Game 4 and 29 in Game 5.
In the final minute of their victory in Game 4, the Sharks faced an extra attacker and blocked three shots against a Kings' onslaught. Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic was credited with two blocks and Logan Couture one in that stretch.
3. State of D-nial: Goaltender Martin Jones, formerly a backup with the Kings, had a stellar series in the first five playoff starts of his career. San Jose acquired Jones in an offseason trade with the Boston Bruins for a first-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft and a prospect, believing he would be an upgrade over Antti Niemi and make them a tougher out in the playoffs. So far, so good.
Jones allowed 11 goals in five games and went 3-0 at Staples Center. He maintained his cool, calm demeanor under the bright playoff lights and outdueled Quick, his mentor.
Of course, Jones had the benefit of a much stronger defense corps than the Sharks had the past two season. In San Jose's first-round loss to Los Angeles in 2014, Brent Burns played forward, but returned to the blue line in 2015 and has taken his game to new heights this season. The addition of veterans Paul Martin and Roman Polak have strengthened a group that includes Vlasic, one of the NHL's top shutdown defenders. Justin Braun and Brenden Dillon were rock solid against the Kings as well.
4. Coach speak: On Day 1 of training camp with his new team, DeBoer began installing a system with an eye toward the playoffs. The Sharks still are a high-scoring, volume-shooting, puck-possession team, but they're much more responsible defensively than in the past. During their first-round loss to the Kings in 2014, San Jose gave up 26 goals; 18 of them during Los Angeles' victories in the final four games. This time, the Kings scored 11 goals in five games.
The Sharks also have cut down on the type of mistakes that fueled the Kings' attack and led to odd-man rushes in 2014. San Jose relied more on simple, safe passes and crashing the net than making highlight-worthy plays.
"I honestly find we just don't make the big errors," center Joe Thornton said. "We've really cut that out of our game, errors that would have cost us in the past. We don't make those silly plays anymore. If there is a mistake, guys are there to back up that mistake. Guys are looking out for each other. That's what good teams do."
5. Going deep: DeBoer relied on four lines throughout the series, making sure his top players didn't wear down.
In Game 5, rookie second-line forward Joonas Donskoi scored his first two playoff goals. He wasn't alone. Fourth-line center Chris Tierney scored his first career playoff goal, and third-line forward Matt Nieto scored his first goal of the series. Third-line forward Melker Karlsson hit an empty net for his first career postseason goal.
Donskoi gave San Jose a 1-0 lead at 1:08 of the first period, then scored the game-winner at 3:58 of the third.
"Our depth won us the series," DeBoer said. "As good as our top-end players were, I think they'd say the same thing."
by Eric Gilmore / NHL.com Correspondent