Thanks to a rookie whose post-game quotes tend to go viral, the start of this season’s Stanley Cup playoffs for the Sharks will probably be referred to around the Bay Area as the “I Not Much Like LA” series.
Not just because Tomas Hertl is rightfully irked at Dustin Brown for the knee-to-knee hit that sidelined him back in December.
But because it is a grin-inducing way of putting out there how much these two teams of hockey players really don’t like each other.
The distaste between the Sharks and Kings surpasses the usual NorCal-SoCal rivalry and goes straight for the jugular.
The hits are harder, the stress is higher, and no other team gets Joe Thornton so riled up that he’s ready for a fight in a following game against a totally different team.
The Sharks host the LA Kings in Game 1 of the 2014 Stanley Cup Quarterfinals on Thursday. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
Despite what any player in that dressing room says, this Sharks squad is still PO’d over losing to the Kings in seven games in Round 2 last season, and has plenty of tools in their arsenal to end this season’s playoff meet-up differently.
This match up already differs from last season’s playoff bout in that the Sharks start off with home ice advantage.
San Jose notoriously plays better at home against the Kings. Even when they lost to LA at home 1-0 back on January 27, they kept the opposition from scoring until well into the game — and looked good doing it.
After a season plagued with injury — dating back to the preseason when Raffi Torres was sidelined with a right knee injury — the Sharks will have the benefit of almost an entire healthy squad.
Torres, while only playing five games on the regular season, should be rested up enough by Thursday’s puck drop.
Plus, having Hertl back in the mix has already proved positive since his exciting return last week in the Sharks home finale.
A healthier team also means more line depth, something that San Jose showed in last year’s playoff run. We already had a preview of those lines in their regular season finale, with Hertl being moved back up to the top line with Thornton and Brent Burns.
This in turn moves Joe Pavelski back to centering the third line, and Torres has already shown in the past that he plays very well on No. 8’s wing.
Plus, if that second line performs as well as it did at home against Colorado San Jose’s offense will be in very good shape.
And no, Marty Havlat doesn’t have to score a hat trick every time to be successful with Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau. But if his good chemistry on that line produces more goals, nobody is going to complain.
However, this season has proved that “offense” isn’t the first word that comes to mind when San Jose and LA square off. Their tilts have all been tight-checking and very physical.
But with over a week of preparation — the teams have known they were playing each other since last Wednesday — San Jose should be ready for work without any surprises by the first puck drop.
The only real question mark on San Jose’s end is with who will get the start in between the pipes.
After a coming back from the Olympic break a bit more on his toes, starter Antti Niemi started to look sluggish again down the stretch, while Alex Stalock continued to impress.
Given that head coach Todd McLellan likes to keep such matters hushed until as close to game time as possible, it is anyone’s guess who will be in net for Game 1.
Keep expecting most of the action to stay in front of the blue paint, however. It’s bound to be a very physical and hard-hitting series.
And if Hertl wants to throw anymore hashtag-worthy gems out there to keep everyone entertained for the next four days that would be wonderful too.