Notes from the first round…
Last night at Staples Center the Kings beat the Sharks 6-3 forcing a game 5 in San Jose this Saturday. The Kings made a statement to everyone involved that they will not go down without a fight. The Sharks also made it clear that they will not back down from anyone. With the game essentially decided the 2 California teams found a way to make the final moments of game 4 get chippy. Game 5 seems to be set to be a memorable classic playoff battle.
Despite the San Jose being up 3 games to one in their series, the Sharks-Kings rivalry is alive and well. With three playoff meetings in the past 4 seasons there are plenty of bragging rights authored by each California club.
The Sharks captain, Joe Thornton, scored the game 6 and series winner in 2011. Last season the Kings/Sharks series ‘deux’ went the 7-game distance, only to see the Kings capture the deciding game in LA. Both teams brought their solid franchise core to this spring’s 1st round matchup.
In many ways these teams mirror one another. LA and San Jose both have excellent coaches. The Kings Darryl Sutter plays it ‘old-school’. He’s a no nonsense guy who demands unwavering discipline and effort. Anything less and Sutter will find a way to get his group re-engaged. The Sharks bench boss, Todd McLellan is not afraid to lay down the law either, but his style is to stress details and create an environment of responsibility. Players know they are responsible to their team and their teammates. Todd’s staff spends considerable time breaking down tape, to ensure each player is prepared and provided with best information possible. Both coaches are genius at making adjustments during the game. Lastly both are winners. Sutter led the Kings to NHL royalty status by capturing the Stanley in 2012 while McLellan was part of the coaching staff in Detroit that led the Wings to the 2008 Cup.
The Kings Cup squad was built around a great puck-moving D-man (Drew Daughty) and a corps of forwarded who combine skill, speed and work ethic (Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter and Mike Richards). The Sharks long run as an NHL power has been anchored by future hall-of-famer Joe Thornton, franchise icon Patrick Marleau and a combination of young and experienced impact players. Both clubs have consistently restocked their rosters via the NHL draft.
Regardless of the outcome the Sharks-Kings rivalry is set up for years to come. Both GMs, Doug Wilson of the Sharks and Dean Lombardi of the Kings know what it takes to assemble a competitive NHL squad. Like great chess masters they can look into the future and anticipate the dynamics of their organization.
It’s been fun to watch these two emerging hockey markets grow and embrace the west coast game, especially those matchups with feature the Sharks, Kings and the Powerful Anaheim Ducks. These games are some of the most anticipated be it regular season or the playoffs.
As we prepare for game 5 of the series it’s interesting to ponder the idea of young California kids watching these games, falling in love with the game and identifying with California natives, Matt Nieto of the Sharks and Alec Martinez of the Kings. This series will certainly add to the rich history of California hockey. Mark my words; it won’t be all that long until we see a fresh crop of California hockey talent break into the NHL.
So as you watch the Sharks and Kings face off tomorrow, be aware you are seeing one of the great rivalries of the NHL. Enjoy the games.