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_0111web.jpg ‘Team behind the Team’

    For the second-straight year, the Claremore Zebra student training staff will be represented in the Oklahoma Coaches All-State games held in Tulsa.
    Meranda Golbek and Sarah Szcinski, a pair of 2014 Claremore High School graduates, earned All-State honors for their athletic training careers and will join two other student trainers from Jenks and Stillwater High School on the East squad.

    July 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • FISHFRYweb.jpg Claremore QB Club holds Fish Fry Aug. 2

    The Claremore Zebra Quarterback Club will hold its annual Fish Fry fundraiser on Aug. 2 at the Claremore High School cafeteria.

    July 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • GOLF: OSU's Jelly wins Oklahoma State Amateur

    Oklahoma State's Brendon Jelley captured the Oklahoma Golf Association State Amateur Championship on Wednesday with a 1-up victory over Preston Crawford at The Patriot Golf Club.

    July 29, 2014

  • OSU wrestling to host Alumni Reunion

    Oklahoma State wrestling will host an alumni reunion for former Cowboy wrestlers, trainers and managers on Sept. 19-20 in Stillwater.

    July 29, 2014

  • OU's Mixon claims self defense

    The attorney for Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon says the incident that left a 20-year-old female OU student with multiple facial fractures was a case of self-defense.

    July 29, 2014

  • Sooners' secondary gets ready for changes

    There’s a reason Oklahoma is the preseason favorite to win the Big 12 Conference and a front-runner to get a spot in the first College Football Playoff.

    The experience – especially on defense – is the leading cause.

    July 29, 2014

  • SOFTBALL: Adair aiming high in 2014

    Adair's Lady Warriors have never shied away from the spotlight.

    Head coach Chell Looney's team will have plenty of chances to earn respect and a shot at the program's third straight regional tournament appearance.

    July 29, 2014

  • Cat Conti earns her stripes as football official

    Cat Conti never played sports, let alone had any interest in them, when she was growing up in Southern California. She wanted to be a Hollywood star.

    July 29, 2014

  • Fitzgerald: Union push unified Northwestern

    No matter how this season unfolds, Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald insisted there is no more unified team than his Wildcats.

    For that, he credits the push for them to unionize.

    July 29, 2014

  • NFL: Make or break season for Rams QB Bradford

    It's become a rite of training camp for Sam Bradford.

    Every summer, he deals with the oversized burden of living up to getting picked first overall in 2010. The St. Louis Rams quarterback is not surprised that once again, he's supposedly at a career crossroads.

    July 29, 2014