NHL playoffs preview: Sharks vs. Kings will be one for the ages

Victor Decolongon

The Kings and Sharks are both legitimate Cup contenders. One will be done in Round 1.

SB Nation 2014 NHL Playoff Bracket

As far as first-round matchups go, they really can't get much better than Los Angeles vs. San Jose.

Forget the first round: this would have been a great Western Conference Final matchup. Both teams are among the best in the NHL and seem to have what it takes to win the Stanley Cup this season, and one of them is guaranteed to be done in the first round.

Those are some high stakes, and based on the regular season series this could be one that goes the distance, coming down to a single bounce or break going one teams way. Four of the five games this year were decided by one goal, with two of them going to overtime. Between the two teams, they combined to score just 19 goals in head-to-head games.

Kingssharks_medium

The offensive outlook

The Kings don't score goals like your typical Stanley Cup contender, and they enter the postseason as the lowest scoring team in the playoffs. Usually, that is a problem. It never seems to be for the Kings.

For one, even though they don't score a ton of goals they are the best team in the NHL when it comes to puck possession. Second, they've been getting better since acquiring Marian Gaborik from the Columbus Blue Jackets, putting him on the top line with Anze Kopitar. Really, this season is pretty much a replay of the 2012 season, right down to the fact that the Kings landed an offensive gamebreaker at the deadline ... from the Blue Jackets.

We've seen this before. Just look.

Kings_medium

The Sharks, on the other hand, are an offensive powerhouse. No team gets more shots on goal than they do, they're one of the highest scoring teams in the league, and with Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Logan Couture, Brent Burns, and a healthy Tomas Hertl have one of the most impressive collections of top-six forwards in the league.

And don't buy into any of that "gutless" talk when it comes to Marleau and the playoffs. He actually scores goals at a higher rate in the playoffs than he does during the regular season. He scores a lot in the regular season.

Possession the key on defense

Los Angeles' Drew Doughty always gets the headlines in any game he is involved in, and for good reason. He's one of the best in the league at his position and is coming off another fantastic season for the Kings.

But if there's a defensemen in this series that might have the best Norris Trophy argument this season it might actually be San Jose's Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Playing against first-liners all season and having one of the lowest percentage of offensive zone starts on the team (48 percent), he still ended up crushing the opposition from a goals and shots perspective. He is on the short list of Sharks' MVP candidates this season.

The Kings have a reputation for being a great defensive team because they don't score and they don't give up anything, but a lot of that "defense" comes from their ability to keep the puck and make other teams play defense. It's a puck possession league, and no team understands that better -- and pulls it off better -- than the Kings.

Cup winners in goal

Both teams come into the series with starting goalies that have won the Stanley Cup. Antti Niemi did it with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010 and Jonathan Quick did it thanks in part to an historical playoff run in 2012 with the Kings. While his regular season numbers tend to drift toward the league average, Quick's past two playoff runs have been two of the best ever for any goalie in recent playoff history.

If Niemi falters at all, backup Alex Stalock has been outstanding this season with a .932 save percentage.

Who has edge in special teams?

With two top teams as evenly matched as the Kings and Sharks are, especially at even strength, it might simply come down to a couple of power play goals swinging the series one way or the other.

But here's the thing about that: Neither team was particularly successful on the power play this season, and both were among the best in the league on the penalty kill.

If there is one power play unit that might have the potential to come through in a big way it might be San Jose's, not only because of the talent it's capable of putting on the ice, but also because the it produced more shots per 60 minutes of five-on-four play than any other team in the league. That sort of shot volume is usually a good sign when it comes to future success.

The schedule

Game Date Time (ET) Western Conference First Round National TV
1 Thu, Apr 17 10:30 p.m. Los Angeles at San Jose NBCSN, CBC
2 Sun, Apr 20 10 p.m. Los Angeles at San Jose NBCSN, CBC
3 Tue, Apr 22 10 p.m. San Jose at Los Angeles NBCSN, CBC
4 Thu, Apr 24 10:30 p.m. San Jose at Los Angeles NBCSN, CBC
5* Sat, Apr 26 TBD Los Angeles at San Jose NBCSN, CBC
6* Mon, Apr 28 TBD San Jose at Los Angeles CBC
7* Wed, Apr 30 TBD Los Angeles at San Jose CBC

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