The San Jose Sharks advanced to the Western Conference Semifinals by virtue of their hard-fought victory over the Los Angeles Kings in six games. This series was very close, with three of the games heading to overtime. Sharks forward Joe Thornton clinched the series with an overtime goal past Kings' goalie Jonathan Quick.
Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Devin Setoguchi, and Joe Thornton are just a few weapons in a stocked offensive front that is three lines deep. The Sharks are simply too good for the Los Angeles Kings as currently constructed. Quick will steal two games, but the Kings don't have the players to match San Jose.
Sharks in 6.
Well, not much else to say about this series, is there? Let's take a look at what this series taught us about these two teams.
What Happened To Los Angeles?
The Kings entered this series tremendous underdogs, with almost no one giving them a chance. Yet the argument could be made that the Kings were the consistently better team throughout the series. They lost three games in overtime, including a heartbreaking Game Three, when they blew a 4-0 lead midway through the second period.
The Kings believed they would win, and they played out of their minds. Jonathan Quick stole a couple of games, as expected; if Anze Kopitar was healthy, we'd be talking about the Kings in the semifinals. This team is a legitimate Cup contender for 2011-2012.
What Have We Learned About San Jose?
Good question. An offensive juggernaut in the regular season faces an inferior opponent and almost loses the series? That sounds like the Sharks teams from the past few years. But there's a few differences. The Sharks of the past wouldn't have won all three overtime games. Past Sharks teams would have given up on a 4-0 deficit in the second period, instead of fighting back for an overtime victory. Throughout his career, Joe Thornton has been criticized as shrinking from the moment; he clinched the series for the Sharks.
Last year, San Jose faced a similarly wounded but scrappy Colorado Avalanche team in the first round. They were led by a hot goaltender (Craig Anderson) and pushed the Sharks to the brink of elimination. Instead, the Sharks won the series and made it into the Conference Finals.
The Sharks are one of the most talented teams remaining in the playoffs. They have great offensive depth (seven Sharks players scored two or more goals in the series), solid defense, and a playoff tested goaltender in Antti Niemi (.920 SV%, 2.38 GAA). A hard challenge in the first playoff series can be a good wakeup call for a talented team that has so often sleepwalked into the playoffs.
Who do they want to face? The Detroit Red Wings are a juicy matchup for San Jose. The Sharks have more firepower than Detroit, a better goaltender, and a younger defensive core.
Who do they want to avoid? The Nashville Predators are built like the Kings, only with a better defensive system, a more physical unit, and an elite goaltender. Considering how their series against the Kings could have turned out, the Sharks would love to avoid another physical defensive squad like Nashville.