When I look back on my round one predictions for these two teams, I correctly predicted both series, and got them both wrong at the same time. I picked the Sharks to beat the Canucks, but did anybody think it would be a sweep? I also thought the Blues would put up a much better fight this time around and come out on top. They did put up a great fight and were very close to leaving L.A. with a 3-1 series lead before it all fell apart. Now we have a battle of California and given how well these two matchup against each other, it's anyone's guess who will skate away victorious. Though, from a betting perspective, there is only one clear choice.
The Blues might have lost the series, but they didn't let the Kings off lightly this year. In total, there were 479 hits between them and not a lot of time to recover. Conversely, the Sharks haven't played in a week. This prompts the yearly debate pundits have about rest vs rust. Will the layoff hurt the Sharks? Will the Kings be able to survive a long series? I think the answer to this is - both. The Kings should have a clear advantage in game one, but for how long? A period? The whole game? Either way, after game one the time off will begin to favor the Sharks. The longer this series goes, the better for San Jose.
The Kings might be defending champions, but they did it as an eight seed. At no point did they go into a series last year as the favorite. In round one this season, they once again started on the road as the underdog. In fact, the Kings haven't gone into a series as a favorite since 1992. We all know home ice isn't as important as it used to be, but expectations are another matter. For the first time, the Kings won't be able to play loose as the underdog. That honor will go to the Sharks.
How much of an impact will this have on the series? That is certainly up for debate. The Kings haven't lost a playoff game at home in their last 10, while the Sharks had the best home ice advantage in the NHL during the regular season. One thing to consider is the home ice "disadvantage" later in a series. In round one every home team that went to a seventh game struggled. Only the Bruins managed to walk away with a win, but that came under improbable circumstances. Home teams have a ton of pressure on them in the big games and I think expectations could favor the Sharks in this series.
I really liked how the Blues matched up with the Kings in round one, both on offense and defense. The problem was on the high end side of things. The Kings have big guns that come through in the clutch - Kopitar, Richards, Carter, and Brown. The Blues had to hope that three second lines could compensate for that and in the end they couldn't.
Enter the San Jose Sharks. I pegged Couture as a great value pick for the Conne Smythe Trophy at 75/1 odds before the playoffs started, and right now that's looking like a golden pick. He has 8 points in 4 games and is probably the best two-way player still alive in the playoffs. He started in the defensive zone 66.7% of the time in round one, but still managed to drive play forward more than the opponent - finishing with a positive 5.9 corsi rating. That is simply outstanding play for a guy emerging as a superstar before our eyes.
Along with Couture, guys like Thornton, Marleau, and Pavelski are all producing in the big moments as well. They will not have the same problems the Blues had unless Quick takes over the series all by himself. What Sharks fans need to know is whether or not names like Burns, Gomez, Galiardi, and Wingels can match the Kings depth players. This could very well be the difference in the series, because Penner, King, and Lewis are all proven playoff performers.
I didn't mention the goaltending matchup in this series because Niemi has proved he can play at an elite level. He is 11-2 in playoff overtimes in his career and is up for the Vezina award this season. Quick had a rocky start, but he returned to MVP form as well as round one unfolded.
We'll see if the Sharks can rise to the occassion and play like champs in the big moments, but I think the intangibles favor them. They know the Kings well, go in as the underdogs, and have a lot of rest. The sportsbooks are favoring L.A. by a full game in this series and that's value that I cannot pass up. I like two bets in this series.
Prediction: San Jose ML for the series (+135) and San Jose +1 games for the series (-110).