Pressing Question: Can the Sharks get over past playoff hurdles?
One of PHT’s 10 pressing questions in advance of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs…
It’s playoff time. For the San Jose Sharks, this time of the year has not been too kind to them.
Sure, they’ve been a terrific regular season team dating back to the resumption of National Hockey League operations following the 2004-05 lockout. They even won a Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top regular season team back in 2008-09, and the addition of Joe Thornton only helped that team roll over the competition but only up until playoff time.
Including that season, the Sharks have amassed a record of 271-130-57. Impressive. Here comes the ‘Yeah, but...’
The post-season is now upon us again. The Sharks go into their first-round series up against the L.A. Kings - Stanley Cup champions from 2012 and Western Conference finalists a year ago.
So, if the Sharks are indeed to follow up a strong regular season with a substantial playoff run, it will need to go through their California rivals, the Kings. No easy task.
“It’s a very evenly matched series and I think both teams respect each other,” Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle told the San Francisco Chronicle.
The Sharks watched this season as Joe Pavelski emerged as one of the league’s top scoring threats. He recorded 41 goals, which was 10 above his previous career best set two years ago.
Yet, based on reports out of San Jose, it appears he could start this series on the third line.
According to CSN Bay Area, 20-year-old rookie Tomas Hertl, out for 45 games due to an injury suffered on Dec. 19 in a collision with Kings’ captain Dustin Brown, could slot back onto the top line with Thornton. And certainly Hertl has his own motivation in this series, admitting he doesn’t like the Kings after what transpired earlier on.
“The debate isn’t a raging one in the coaches’ locker room. We feel equally comfortable going either way,” said Sharks’ head coach Todd McLellan, as per CSN Bay Area.
“The wild card is Tomas, and making sure that he’s capable of handling minutes against the other team’s key players, and [Raffi Torres’] potential return to the lineup. A lot of that will dictate which way we’ll go.”
Goaltending might be the biggest factor if San Jose is to make a run. Consider who the Sharks will face in the first round. Jonathan Quick has, since taking the Kings to a Stanley Cup victory two years ago, emerged as an elite goalie in the league.
Who the Sharks start in goal isn’t set in stone as of yet. Will it be Antti Niemi, the incumbent, or Alex Stalock, who played 24 times this season with a 12-5-2 record?
“It’s been, the whole season, a little different playing L.A. because we have faced them twice in the playoffs, and last year we lost to them,” Niemi told CSN Bay Area. “So, you always get a little extra energy against those guys.”
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