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SAN JOSE - The schedule is set for the resumption of the most heated rivalry in the Western Conference and one of the best in the entire NHL, as San Jose will host Los Angeles in Game 1 of a first round playoff series on Thursday night at SAP Center (7:30 p.m., CSN-CA, NBCSN).
The Sharks and Los Angeles Kings have known since Wednesday night they would be facing one another in the postseason, but the league did not release the schedule until Sunday evening on the final day of the NHL season. There will be a two-day break between the first two games, and then it will go every other day until a winner is determined in the best-of-seven.
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It’s the third time in four years that these teams will meet in the playoffs. In 2013, the Kings eliminated the Sharks in seven games, with the home team winning each time. In 2011, it was San Jose ending Los Angeles’ season in six games, when Joe Thornton scored an overtime marker to give his team an opening round victory.
“They are a huge, huge challenge for us,” Thornton said on Saturday night, moments after the Sharks’ wrapped up their regular season in Phoenix. “We’ve played them in the playoffs, so even in the regular season those are special games. It’s going to be a great challenge, and that’s what we like.”
“I think it’s going to be great. We saw them last year, went down to the final minutes,” said Joe Pavelski, who was robbed late in Game 7 by Jonathan Quick, to preserve the Kings’ 2-1 win. “They’re a good team. We know it’s a big test for us, and we’re going to need everybody on this team to beat them.”
The Sharks went 2-2-1 against the Kings in the five-game season series. The home team is 20-1-1 in the last 22 games, including the playoffs, so the Sharks will embrace having that advantage this time around.
Not only are the games typically close, but they’re physical, too. In the most recent meeting on April 3, a 2-1 Sharks win, there were 84 hits between the two clubs. San Jose was credited with 52 of those, setting a new club record.
“Obviously, it’s going to be a pretty hard fought series,” Dan Boyle said.
Logan Couture agreed. “It’s going to be a battle. They’re a hell of a hockey team … We’re in for a challenge, and we better be ready for it.”
The Sharks will resume practice on Monday, after enjoying a day off Sunday. That will give them three days of practice time, which has been hard to come by in the condensed, peripatetic post-Olympic break portion of their schedule.
“I’m sure we’ll feel rested,” Pavelski said.
Todd McLellan said: “It will be a hell of a series … We have a ton of respect for their team and their organization. They’ve played hard all year. They’ve been flying under the radar for a while. It will be a fun one to play in, and we look forward to getting going.”