SAN JOSE, Calif. – The rivalry between the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks has grown so intense in recent years that even newcomers take little time to acclimate themselves to the animosity.
Rookie Tomas Hertl has spent less than a year in California but managed to sum up most of his San Jose teammates’ feelings toward the Kings when he recently proclaimed that he doesn’t “much like L.A.”
The sentiment from the Kings toward the Sharks is quite similar, stemming from 34 hard-fought meetings over the past four seasons, including a pair of grueling playoff series that the teams have split.
The teams will meet again in a best-of-seven first-round series beginning Thursday night in San Jose with many of the scars from those previous meetings still fresh, including Kings captain Dustin Brown’s illegal knee-on-knee hit that sidelined Hertl for more than three months this season and last year’s seven-game series won by Los Angeles in the second round.
“In order to get revenge, you’ve got to win this series,” Sharks defenceman Marc-Edouard Vlasic said Monday. “That’s the way you get revenge for what happened to Hertl. Hopefully, he can help us win. We’ve played each other enough in the last couple of years—twice in playoffs in the last (three) years. It will be a very, very good series.”
The home team has won 16 of the past 17 games in this series, including all seven in last year’s playoffs won by Los Angeles. This time it’s the Sharks who have the home-ice advantage although the Kings did win 1-0 in San Jose on Jan. 27.
“It’s a tough building,” Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. “That’s a big part of their identity is their home ice, their crowd and their building, so obviously it’s a big challenge.”
The previous two series have not been without heated moments. In 2011, Kings centre Jarret Stoll was suspended one game for hitting Sharks defenceman Ian White into the boards in Game 1 in a ruling disputed by Los Angeles.
The Sharks were the ones angered by a suspension last year when Raffi Torres was banned for the final six games for a hit to the head against Stoll in Game 1.
The absence of Torres and injured forward Marty Havlat sapped San Jose’s depth, forced Joe Pavelski to move from third-line centre to a top six wing and contributed to Los Angeles’ series win even though Stoll missed the remainder of the series as well.
The Kings likely feel the result may have been different in the 2011 series that San Jose won in six games if star centre Anze Kopitar hadn’t broken his ankle late in the regular season.
“Rivalries are created in the playoffs more than in the regular season. Having seen them twice certainly elevates that,” Sharks defenceman Dan Boyle said. “There’s going to be some sort of underlying story line to every series. I’m sure this one, Brown hurting Tomas is going to be talked about, them taking us out last time around will be talked about. But every series is fun.”
Both teams are close to full strength heading into this meeting, with Hertl having returned for the final two regular season games. Torres could return from a knee injury that has sidelined him for all but five games this season.
Los Angeles defenceman Drew Doughty is also expected back after missing the final four games of the regular season after hurting his shoulder on a check against San Jose’s Tyler Kennedy earlier this month.
“It will be an intense series. It always has been,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. “We’ve had a rivalry going now for four or five years where they have really played well and hard against us and vice versa. I don’t think that is going to change at all.”
NOTES: McLellan said he has picked a starting goalie for the series but has not told Antti Niemi or Alex Stalock who is getting the call. … D Scott Hannan said he is ready to play after missing the regular season finale with an upper-body injury.