Claremore Daily Progress

Sports

May 14, 2013

NHL PLAYOFFS: Kings, Sharks prepared for California clash

LOS ANGELES — Although Joe Thornton and Dustin Brown might not agree on much else over the next two weeks, both captains believe hockey has never been bigger or better in California, from the thriving youth game all the way to their state's three winning NHL clubs.

The San Jose Sharks and the Los Angeles Kings are eager to highlight this renaissance in their second-round playoff series. It's the fourth postseason meeting between Golden State teams, but the first beyond the opening round.

Judging by the rivals' two stacked rosters and the series' high stakes, everything is in place for a California classic.

"It's pretty cool,'' Thornton said Monday before the Sharks' 45-minute flight south. "Hockey is big out here now. You have a lot of youngsters playing, a lot of older people, too. Hockey is thriving out here in the West.''

Starting in the series opener Tuesday night at Staples Center, the defense-first Kings and the skill-laden Sharks will showcase their contrasting styles in pursuit of the same goal: Being the California club in the Western Conference finals for the eighth time in 10 years.

Local rivalries and short travel times are taken for granted in the Eastern Conference, but they're special circumstances in the West. Neither team wants to waste the advantages of brief flights and their large fan contingents in both arenas.

"I think it's a great thing for California to get these two teams in this situation,'' Brown said at the Kings' training complex. "It's the perfect time for it because of how well hockey is doing. We know what's at stake after what we did last year, and they know it as well.''

The Kings nearly ended up with a matchup even closer to home against the Anaheim Ducks, but their local rivals were eliminated Sunday night by Detroit, scuttling the Kings' hopes of traveling by bus to the first postseason Freeway Faceoff. They've still got a familiar local foe - and for the first time in 21 years, Los Angeles gets to start a postseason series at home.

The Kings have won five straight playoff series as the lower-seeded team over the past two seasons, setting an NHL record. Instead, they hope to continue their dominant run at Staples Center, where they've won 10 straight since March - including a 3-2 win in the regular season finale on April 27, securing the fifth seed by finishing two points ahead of San Jose.

"We're getting into that groove,'' Los Angeles center Anze Kopitar said. "We had a slow start, but the last few games are a good indication of what we can do. We're familiar with them from so many years. We know what they bring and what they can do, and they know what we want to do, so I think it should be a fun series to see who can do it better.''

Los Angeles is amply wary of the Sharks, who are just one series away from their third Western Conference finals appearance in four years. Both teams won four straight to close out their first-round series, although San Jose swept Vancouver while Los Angeles dropped its first two games before rolling through hard-nosed St. Louis.

"I don't know if it will be as physical,'' Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said of the upcoming series. "They have some guys that will be physical, but I don't think they have as many guys that will work as hard as guys that were on St. Louis. At the same time, I think this team has a lot more skill and a lot more high-profile players, so it will be just as tough to win this series, too.''

Doughty and Logan Couture are probably done texting each other for the month. The childhood buddies and longtime teammates usually don't talk about their teams' rivalry, but Couture admires the Kings' 16-4 roll through the last postseason - something the Sharks have never experienced in nine straight trips to the playoffs.

"The hottest team wins the Stanley Cup at playoff time, that's the way it is every single year,'' Couture said. "They showed it. It was a prime example last year. They played unbelievable hockey. They really tore through every other team. It's a pretty incredible thing to do.''

San Jose and Los Angeles met in the playoffs for the first time two years ago, and the Sharks advanced in six hard-nosed games on the way to their second straight conference finals - but the Kings were still coached back then by Terry Murray, who was replaced in December 2011 by Darryl Sutter, the longtime Sharks coach. Patrick Marleau, Scott Hannan and Brad Stuart all played for Sutter in San Jose.

"They know all of us, and we know all of them, so there won't be many surprises,'' Los Angeles' Jarret Stoll said. "They're having a great run. They're playing the right way, and they'll be fired up. Maybe they're buying in a little more, blocking more shots, and that's why they're still playing.''

The Sharks' biggest asset might be goalie Antti Niemi. The Stanley Cup winner has elevated his formidable game this season, posting a league-best 24 victories with a career-low 2.16 goals-against average as a finalist for the Vezina Trophy.

But this series features two Cup-winning goalies, and Jonathan Quick has a Conn Smythe Trophy to go with it. Quick was in his usually formidable postseason form against St. Louis, allowing just 10 goals on 177 shots with the same low-to-the-ice, athletic style that led the Kings to a title.

No matter which team survives this matchup, players and coaches are confident local hockey will get another boost from the clubs' combined success.

"I think it's an incredible thing for the state of California,'' said Sharks coach Todd McLellan, whose sons participated in youth hockey programs in the South Bay.

"(The) extreme growth and passion that this community has, and I'm sure it's the same down South, that's a result of the three teams having some success - playing late, becoming young hockey players' heroes and contributing to the community,'' McLellan added. "So if we can continue that trend - obviously we will, because one of these two teams is going to go on - I think it's a great thing for the state.''

 

1
Text Only
Sports
  • DSC_0237web.jpg Hrdlicka, Teter pour ‘heart’ into Zebra soccer program

    For the past four years, Claremore High School seniors Katelin Teter and Nick Hrdlicka have represented the ‘heart and soul’ of the Lady Zebra and Zebra soccer programs.
    The soccer duo will join seven other seniors on Friday night for Homecoming against Collinsville at Lantow Field.

    April 16, 2014 2 Photos

  • DSC_0014web.jpg 9 straight for Lady Zebras

    Claremore sophomore forward Bailey Steckline got the ‘hat-trick’ plus one Tuesday night in the Lady Zebras’ 10-0 win over Tulsa Memorial at  LaFortune Stadium.
    Steckline tallied two goals in the first half, and added two more in the second to complete her impressive night.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • DSC_0156web.jpg Tulsa Memorial holds off Zebras, 2-1

    Tulsa Memorial scored a pair of first-half goals  to steal the momentum away from the Claremore Zebras, as well as the 2-1 win Tuesday night in Metro Lakes Conference action at LaFortune Stadium.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • DSC_0015web.jpg BASEBALL: Whatley, Howe power Zebras past Tahlequah

    Claremore’s Matt Whatley has proven over the past four years that he’s one of the toughest outs in the Metro Lakes Conference.
    On Tuesday, Whatley went 3-for-4 with two singles and a triple while sparking the Zebras to a 12-2 win over Tahlequah in five innings at American Legion Park.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • BASEBALL: Dewey takes pair from Sequoyah

    It’s very difficult to win when you can’t score.
    Class 4A third-ranked Dewey blanked homestanding Sequoyah 7-0 and 2-0 in a district doubleheader on Tuesday, improving to 21-3 with a dominating two-hit pitching performance in the opener and a four-hitter in the nightcap.

    April 18, 2014

  • SOCCER: Sequoyah topples No. 15 Catoosa, 1-0

    Sequoyah boys soccer coach Bob Campbell had one phrase to sum up his feelings following the Eagles’ game with 15th ranked Catoosa at home Tuesday night.
    “We’re in the driver’s seat.’’
    Alex Bourgeois scored late in the first half and Sequoyah made it stand up for a 1-0 victory over the Indians in a showdown for the district lead.

    April 18, 2014

  • Jackson sprints Zebras to 1st place at OBU Relays

    Claremore senior sprinter Tyler Jackson felt the need for speed Wednesday afternoon at the Oklahoma Baptist University High School Invitational.
    Jackson notched a pair of first-place victories in the 200-meter dash and the 400-meter dash to help Claremore earn 130 points for top honors.

    April 18, 2014

  • BASEBALL: Arkansas Tech roughs up ‘Cats

    The Rogers State University baseball team had a disappointing finish in its home finale as No. 12-ranked Arkansas Tech blanked the Hillcats 11-0 Tuesday evening in non-conference action from the Diamond Sports Complex.

    April 18, 2014

  • BASEBALL: Houston Baptist clips ORU, 11-10

    Jose Trevino launched his second home run of the series on Saturday afternoon to send the game into extra innings, but Houston Baptist plated two runs in the 10th to avoid a three-game sweep with an 11-10 win at J.L. Johnson Stadium.

    April 20, 2014

  • SOFTBALL: Henshaw's 11th-inning HR lifts Tulsa past UTSA, 2-1

    Senior Haley Henshaw's home run in the top of the 11th inning gave No. 16 Tulsa a 2-1 win at UTSA and complete the series sweep Saturday afternoon at Roadrunner Field.

    April 20, 2014