Oh it’s the best time of year. The weather is warming up, school is coming to an end and the Stanley Cup Playoffs are about to kick into gear. The playing field has been narrowed down from 30 to 16-teams hoping to lift the Stanley Cup.
Luckily for the Los Angeles Kings they are among those 16-teams and will be facing the San Jose Sharks in their opening series of the post season.
Although the focus will ultimately be on who wins on any given night and which teams advances to the next round, there are plenty of subplots and story lines in each series that play a role in the outcome. Some of these story lines mine as well have big neon lights around them, others can have a more of a read between the lines type of feel. That being said, here are the five things to watch in the Kings and Sharks series.
1. Drew Doughty’s Health
Remember how I mentioned the big neon lights? Yea, this is one of those occasions. Doughty went down with a shoulder injury in a game against the Sharks just under three weeks ago. Doughty has been saying he is ready to go for the last couple of games, but the coaching and training staff have been patient with allowing Doughty’s return. It seems as if all things are pointing to Doughty’s return to the ice for game one. However, if Doughty is not at full health or aggravates that shoulder against a very physical Sharks team, things could get pretty tough for the Kings.
2. Will The Sharks Look For Revenge?
Dustin Brown plays with a chip on his shoulder, we all know that. He hits anything that moves and makes his presence felt. Are those hits dirty or cheap? Everyone has their own opinion on that one. This was on display in a December meeting between the Kings and Sharks when Brown laid a hit on Sharks rookie Tomas Hertl. Hertl suffered two torn ligaments in his knee and missed the next 45-games.
In an interview with NHL.com Hertl commented on being able to play Los Angeles again.
“It’s personal,” Hertl said after practice Monday. “It’s L.A. … For me, it’s more motivation because (it’s) L.A. I want to beat L.A.”
After playing the Colorado Avalanche on Friday in his first game in nearly four months, Hertl couldn’t help but look ahead to the postseason.
“Playoff time, it’s more important, because it’s L.A.,” Hertl said. “I [don't] much like L.A. this season.”
Hertl returned for the Sharks’ final two games of the regular season. It will be interesting to see how Hertl approaches the game and whether or not he looks for a little payback in his first meeting with the Kings since the injury.
3. How Important Will Home Ice Be?
The Kings and the Sharks met in the Western Conference Semifinals last season, and the Kings came out on top. This was thanks in part to having home ice advantage over the Sharks. The home team went 7-0-0 during that series and proved to be a true advantage. Things have been much of the same during this season, with the home team winning four out of five regular season meetings between the two teams. The only road win this season went to the Kings, a 1-0 victory in late January. The Kings will need to translate that victory into the post season and steal at least one game while away from Staples Center if they want a shot at the next round.
4. Cut Things Short.
The Kings’ playoff run came to an end in the Western Conference Finals last season when they lost to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks in five games. Yes, the Blackhawks had the biggest role in the outcome of that series, but the two teams the Kings had faced before had just as big an impact. The Kings opened up last year’s playoffs against the St. Louis Blues and then met the Sharks in the second round. Both were blue-collar, hard-fought battles that went six and seven games respectively. The Kings will get much of the same in this year’s opening round against the Sharks. However, if the Kings want to run deep into the playoffs they have to avoid the ware and tear that comes with a long grueling series. If the Kings could finish this series up in under six games, that would put them in great shape.
5. Who’s Going To Be The Hero?
The playoffs can make or break a player’s career. They are a time where people gain the title stud or dud. Each year every team has that guy who has his coming out party and carries his team through the playoffs. The Kings had Brown in 2012 scoring 20-points in 20-games, they had Slava Voynov last year scoring four game-winning goals, now we look towards this year. Will Alec Martinez continue his offensive prowess into the playoffs? Will Marian Gaborik prove to be another Jeff Carter and spark the Kings to their second Stanley Cup Championship? Only time will tell.