SAN JOSE - The Sharks finally know their opponent for the second round, and it’s a familiar one.
San Jose will face the Los Angeles Kings in a Western Conference semifinal series, with the first two games at Staples Center. Game 1 is on Tuesday at 7 p.m. according to an NHL source, but the rest of the schedule is yet to be announced.
The Sharks swept the Vancouver Canucks in the first round, while the Kings eliminated the St. Louis Blues in six. Los Angeles lost the first two games of the series, so both teams will enter Game 1 on a four-game winning streak.
The Kings, of course, are still the defending Stanley Cup champions. In San Jose’s locker room, Brad Stuart is one of only a few Sharks players that knows a little bit about what that’s like.
“When you win it, every team is gunning for you,” Stuart said. “They struggled with that I think a little bit early in the year, and they’re probably over that now. Now, just the fact that they know what it takes, is probably an advantage.
“But, this is the playoffs. Whether you’ve won it before or not, every team is going to be prepared and gunning for you because they want to move on. That they have that experience is an advantage at this point in the year for them.”
San Jose hasn’t played since eliminating the Canucks at home last Tuesday. They took Wednesday and Thursday off and have held up-tempo practices the past three days.
“In a really strange year, this is a long break,” Todd McLellan said, referring to the condensed NHL schedule following the lockout. “There is some energy in practice, and that energy bank that you have is full, so that’s a good sign. The bumps and bruises are healing.”
Logan Couture said: “We’re all excited to get back to playing hockey. … We all want to play a game right now, but it’s good to have this rest, practice a couple things and be ready.”
The Sharks and Kings split four regular season games. On March 14, the Sharks won 4-3 at HP Pavilion, but dropped a 5-2 decision in Los Angeles two nights later. The Sharks defended their home ice on April 16 with a 3-2 shootout win, but lost the final game of the regular season, 3-2, at Staples Center on April 27.
The Pacific Division rivals don’t like one another, a notion that typically manifests itself in on-ice nastiness and battles after whistles.
“They’re big and physical,” Tommy Wingels said. “We saw how intense their first series was, so they’re obviously playing real good hockey having won four straight. Any time we play them it’s physical, that’s for sure.”
Stuart said: “They’re a hard team. They’re going to play hard, and every line is going to throw some physicality at you. They’re going to make it tough, and they don’t give you any ice for free, you’re going to have to work for it.”
Brent Burns led all Sharks scorers against Los Angeles with eight points (2g, 6a), while Couture had a team-leading three goals. The Kings’ Justin Williams had six points against the Sharks (2g, 4a), while Dustin Brown and Kyle Clifford had three goals each.
Antti Niemi posted a 2-2-0 mark in four games with a 3.31 goals-against average and .904 save percentage against the Kings. Expected starter Jonathan Quick was 1-0-1 against San Jose in three games, with a 2.74 GAA and .903 SP. Quick was pulled after two periods in a loss on March 14, while Niemi was replaced by Alex Stalock in the second period of the Sharks’ loss on March 16.
Quick was last season’s Conn Smythe Award winner as playoff MVP. He allowed just 10 goals in six games against the Blues, and is third among playoff goalies with a 1.58 goals-against average. Niemi is sixth (1.86).
“Their goaltender was a big part of their success last year, and he’s probably their best player,” Stuart said. “We have to be prepared to make it hard on him, as well, and not give him easy looks at shots. It will be a good physical test for us.”
The teams have met just once in the postseason. The Sharks won a first round matchup against the Kings in 2011, four games to two. Joe Thornton’s overtime winner in Game 6 won it for San Jose, and the Sharks erased a four-goal deficit to win Game 3.