SAN JOSE – It’s been a long week.
Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing for the San Jose Sharks, who haven’t played since eliminating the Vancouver Canucks last Tuesday, completing the first-ever playoff sweep in franchise history.
The Sharks rested on Wednesday and Thursday, catching their breath and healing from various bumps and bruises. They practiced for four straight days starting on Friday, before hopping on the team charter on Monday afternoon. They’ll finally get back to game action on Tuesday night in Game 1 against the L.A. Kings at Staples Center (7 p.m.).
“We all want to play hockey right now. We’re excited,” Logan Couture said. “Today had a different feel to it. Guys were excited and we’re anxious to get going tomorrow…pretty pumped up.”
Todd McLellan said: “You can tell in practice, they’re like racehorses. They’re ready to run.”
The Sharks were unable to prepare over the weekend for a specific opponent, as Detroit and Anaheim went a full seven games. The Red Wings eliminated the Ducks on Sunday night, so the Sharks finally knew that they would be facing Pacific Division rival Los Angeles in the second round.
The Kings eliminated the Blues in six games, ending that series on Friday night. Los Angeles lost the first two games before reeling off four straight wins. Mike Richards led the Kings with five points (all assists), while Jeff Carter had a team-leading three goals in the series.
The Sharks talked about the defending Stanley Cup champions after Monday’s skate.
“They’ve got great goaltending, they play solid defense, and they’ve got four lines that can put the puck in the net,” Marc-Edouard Vlasic said. “They’ve got a lot of speed and size. They skate, they work hard and they’re physical.”
Joe Thornton said: “They’re the champs, so we’ve got to go down there and try to win some games. We’re not looking to go down and sweep the champs, we just want to compete hard from Game 1 on, and see if we can get a win.”
The Kings’ success starts with the goaltender, Jonathan Quick, who took home the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP in 2012. Through the first six games in 2013, Quick has allowed just 10 goals for a 1.58 goals-against average and .944 save percentage.
“He’s playing at the top of his game and we’re got to create some chances, some traffic in front of him, and just hit the net when we get a chance,” Joe Pavelski said.
Todd McLellan said: “They have a Conn Smythe winner in goal that played extremely well in the first series, so there’s the goaltending issue on their behalf. But, we also have one that we think has played very well and has won a Cup.”
McLellan, of course, is referring to Antti Niemi, who actually had a stronger regular season than Quick and is one of three nominees for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goaltender. Niemi, who won a Stanley Cup with Chicago in 2010, was outstanding in the Sharks’ sweep of Vancouver and his 1.86 GAA and .937 SP are only slightly lower than Quick’s numbers.
Niemi was asked about Quick on Monday.
“He’s very quick moving,” he said, no pun intended. “He recovers well. He’s tough to beat, and is good coming out for the rebounds.”
Does Niemi ever think about who he’s up against?
“Not really. I try to be more focused on my own game,” he said.
The Sharks and Kings split four regular season games, although the last meeting in the final game of the regular season on April 27 more resembled a preseason game, as the teams seemed to be playing more to avoid injury than to win.
Regardless, no player on either side is likely have any of those four previous matchups in mind when the puck drops for Game 1.
“You just kind of throw out all the records in the regular season. Now, it’s a new season,” Thornton said. “The last game against them wasn’t very good, but we’ll live.”
McLellan said: “It starts all over again. There are moments from each game that you’ll use, and some systematic differences now and then that we’ll use. But, we have to have our team compete, first of all. It’s been awhile since we’ve done that.”
The wait is almost over.