For the first time since 2013, the Sharks will play a second-round game. Led by veterans Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau, and Brent Burns, the Sharks got great performances from the big guns as well as some excellent work by a supporting cast that includes Tomas Hertl, Logan Couture, Melker Karlsson, and Joonas Donskoi. When it came to rolling lines, Peter DeBoer's team simply got more out of its team than the Kings did.
"I haven't been around here for some of the stuff that's gone on in the past, but I'm sure for some guys, they felt like we exorcised some demons tonight," DeBoer told reporters after the game. "For the group in general, it was just a well-earned victory."
Joe Pavelski outplayed Anze Kopitar by a large margin. Martin Jones was considerably better than Jonathan Quick. The Sharks blocked more shots. The Sharks generated more chances. The Sharks were better on the road just as they were in the regular season. In short, there were lots of reasons to like the Sharks in the series, but it seems the Stanley Cup wins by the Kings played a large part in a lot of people calling for their victory in this series.
"Plain and simple, we weren't hard enough on their top guys, on their 'D' or on their goaltender, and we weren't committed to the little things that it takes to win a playoff series," Milan Lucic said quietly. "They blocked more shots than us, beared down on their opportunities more than we did, and that's why we came out on the losing end of things."
Make no mistake, though, that the Sharks' defence corps is arguably the best this team has ever iced. Brent Burns is an all-star and Marc-Edouard Vlasic is a defensive rock. These two players make the Sharks considerable without even mentioning the other four men, but the likes of Roman Polak who locked down the defensive zone while providing some gritty play and Paul Martin who brought an additional offensive and puck-moving ability were vital cogs for which the Kings had no answer. Toss in some excellent two-way play from Brendan Dillon and Justin Braun, and the Sharks might have the most underrated set of defencemen still playing in the postseason.
The offensive depth didn't hurt either. I'm not sure the Kings will be all that happy with the production of Dustin Brown, Marian Gaborik, Drew Doughty, Tyler Toffoli, and Kyle Clifford who totaled a mere four assists, but the depth that Los Angeles once flaunted was nowhere to be found. Some of that can be attributed to a much better Sharks squad, but the Kings simply didn't generate the chances they once did on their third and fourth lines that helped them raise two Stanley Cups.
Let's not forget to credit the Sharks for carrying the play in this series either. They dominated for stretches at a time, and the Kings only led in this series for less than five minutes. In other words, this was a different San Jose team than we've seen in a long time and, conversely, this was a far different Los Angeles team than we're used to seeing.
One of the usual suspects is out after an oft-underachieving team finally lived up to expectations. Will there be more before these playoffs are over? We'll soon find out!
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!