It was almost one year ago when San Jose Sharks Captain Joe Thornton trounced the Los Angeles Kings’ Stanley Cup aspirations.
Trailing 3-2 in 2011 Western Conference Quarterfinals, the underdog Kings faced a “win or stay home” game six at the Staples Center. After 60 minutes, the scoresheet was knotted at three and–for the third time in the best of seven series–the outcome would again be decided by sudden death overtime.
Although Los Angeles began the extra session with 1:37 of power play time stemming from a Jamie McGinn 5-minute major and game misconduct, the Kings could not muster a single shot on goaltender Antti Niemi. Following the unprecedented kill, Sharks coach Todd McClellan wisely deployed his top line of Thornton, Patrick Marleau, and Devin Setoguchi; the rest, as they say, is history.
Thornton’s series winning, “Are you not entertained!” ovation turned backslide over the the Kings’ center ice emblem did not sit well with the Los Angeles faithful and the noticeably peeved head coach Terry Murray, who spurned the customary post series-handshake.
345 days later, on the final weekend of the 2011-2012 NHL regular season, Los Angeles and San Jose will endure a final two game, home-and-home series to determine Pacific Division supremacy and Western Conference playoff seeding.
After beating the Dallas Stars 5-2 onTuesday night, the Sharks improved to 92 points and remained in the West’s top-eight, three points ahead of the ninth-place Stars. Los Angeles, meanwhile, blanked the Edmonton Oilers 2-0 on Monday, and currently sit atop the Pacific Division (third in the West) with 93 points, holding the tie-breaker over seventh-place Phoenix Coyotes and one point lead cushion on San Jose. All four Pacific Division contenders have two games remaining.
Barring back-to-back regulation losses to the Kings and two culminating Stars victories, the Sharks are an odds on favorite to, at worst, secure the West’s eighth seed, according to Sports Club Stats.
But, after last season’s abbreviated playoff run, Los Angeles is looking forward to an opportunity to send the Sharks golfing.
“I think even in the first game this year we all knew we had San Jose back-to-back at the end of the year,” Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said during a Wednesday interview with CSN Bay Area’s Kevin Kurz. “We didn’t want it to come down to these last two games like it’s going to, but we knew it would be two big games. We definitely want to do whatever we can to knock them out of the playoff picture. We want third place, and that’s what we’re going to play for.”
If the Kings want to end the Sharks’ streak of eight consecutive playoff appearances, they will have to do so without one of their leading scorers. Recently acquired center Jeff Carter remains day-t0-day with a deep bone bruise in his ankle. Carter, acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets in a trade-deadline deal in late February, has missed the past three games and has yet to participate in a full practice since sustaining the injury.
Conversely, if the Sharks want to extend their streak of four straight Pacific Division titles, they will not only need some help from the Coyotes, but they will also need to hurriedly reverse their road woes. Since Jan. 15, San Jose is just 5-13-4 in road games and they have yet to defeat the Kings at Staples Center this year.
San Jose’s last victory in LA was the result of Thornton’s game six, series clinching overtime winner; Big Joe and the boys will attempt to repeat history tonight.
For a more comprehensive–and somewhat nauseating–look at San Jose’s potential playoff clinching scenarios, check out CSN Bay Area.