Barring a huge Anaheim collapse it appears that the Sharks will clash with their rivals, the LA King, in round one of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
If Thursday’s LA vs. SJ matchup at the Tank is any indication, we are in for a series to remember. The Sharks captured a hard-fought 2-1 victory showing quite evident that this West Coast rivalry is alive and well. In many ways these team mirror one another.
It starts at the top. The Sharks’ GM Doug Wilson and the Kings’ Dean Lombardi are both experienced passionate leaders who have built their staffs with solid and trusted hockey people. Lombardi learned his trade as an assistant in San Jose. Later Dean earned the keys to the GM’s office. At the time the Sharks franchise was in disarray. Under Lombardi’s leadership the Sharks built a competitive club relying on cagey veterans who could still play at a high level, yet were also able to mentor young players like Patrick Marleau and Marco Sturm. Later the Sharks stumbled, missing the playoffs in 2002-03, and Dean was relieved of his duties. After several seasons serving in Philadelphia’s scouting staff, Lombardi was named GM of the Kings. After a partial re-build, strong drafting and a culture change, LA won the Stanley Cup in 2012.
The Sharks GM, Doug Wilson took over for Lombardi and has assembled a club that is an annual Cup contender. Wilson has made strong draft picks, wise free-agent pickups and has fostered an environment of success. Each season the Sharks ‘refresh and reset’ by anticipating moves that are focused on the future without sacrificing the present. Under Doug’s leadership the Sharks have made the playoffs in 10 straight seasons, second only to the Detroit Red Wings.
The Kings’ 2012 Cup team’s bench boss was long-time NHL coach Darryl Sutter. Sutter’s no-nonsense approach was exactly what LA needed to push them to the top. It was the same Darryl Sutter that was hired in San Jose prior to the 1997-98 by then GM Dean Lombardi. It has always been Sutter’s style to create an environment of responsibly, no excuses and an inward pressure. Some call it ‘tough love’, but it drove players like Owen Nolan, Mike Ricci and Vincent Damphousse to some remarkable achievements in San Jose.
The Sharks head coach these days is hockey ‘lifer’ Todd MacLellan. He’s regarded as one of the best head coaches in the NHL and his record reflects that. MacLellan served as an assistant to Detroit’s Mike Babcock in their 2008 Stanley Cup season. That success catapulted Todd into the head coach job in San Jose. He has assembled a coaching staff that leaves no stone unturned in their quest to bring the Cup to the South Bay.
Both the Kings and Sharks have 4 games remaining in the regular season to prepare for what could be a first round playoff collision. Each club relies on a veteran cast of performers like the Sharks’ Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle. The Kings’ veteran core is lead by guys like Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Anzi Kopitar.
Regardless of the final outcome of this year’s playoffs both LA and SJ have a wealth of young talent, most notably the Sharks Logan Couture and the Kings’ Drew Daughty. Daughty suffered a shoulder injury in the most recent Sharks/Kings battle. His return is essential to the Kings’ playoff fortunes.
On top of talent, these two clubs boast big, strong rosters that do not shy aware from a physical style. In fact, these teams seem to feed off one another with intensity. The long-time NorCal-SoCal rivalry has not been lost on the NHL. Two recent playoff series have only stoked the fire. The Sharks defeated the Kings in six games in round one of their 2011 run. Last season, the Kings ousted the Sharks in a hard-fought second round matchup up. It took seven games and total home ice success for the Kings to move on. Should the clubs meet this year the Sharks will hold the home-ice edge.
As they line up for the opening faceoff, know that both clubs despise but also respect one another. The Kings and Sharks share a common goal, the Stanley Cup. However, one of these teams will go home unsatisfied after the first round.