Programming note: Coverage of Game 3 between the Sharks and Kings starts Tuesday night at 6:30 on CSN California with Sharks Pregame Live. Bookmark this page for comprehensive coverage of the series.
After two games of this Western Conference quarterfinal series, the San Jose Sharks are the best team in hockey. Either that, or the time of rude surprises has only begun.
History suggests that while the first notion is off base, the second is completely foreign. Winning is one thing in a first-to-four series, but winning big is its own reward.
San Jose head coach Todd McLellan tried to make a convincing case for scores being irrelevant in the wake of his team’s 63-3 and 7-2 boatracings of the Los Angeles Kings, which he has to do. Premature chicken counting is tempting fate, and the Sharks haven’t done enough in the postseason to tempt anything.
But the pre-series analysis which swore that this was going to be an even, low-scoring, face-grinding affair has proven to be without foundation. San Jose’s first-ever four-line hockey team has overwhelmed Los Angeles, so dominating periods 1, 2, 5 and 6 (12-1 in goals) that the Kings’ smaller victories in periods 3 and 4 (5-1 in goals) seem almost non-existent.
[RATTO: Through two games, Sharks-Kings proving everyone a liar]
The Kings do have a Stanley Cup and a recent history of being a tough postseason out. In the Darryl Sutter Era, the Kings have won six of their seven series, losing only to Chicago in the Western Conference final a year ago.
But they haven’t been clobbered so quickly and decisively by any team after two games since they were swept by Edmonton in the second round in 1990. They lost to the pre-Gretzkys, 7-0 and 6-1, in Edmonton, and had little left for the other two games.
But that is the history of such early series hammerings. Going back 20 years (before we got bored), this is the 10th playoff series in which one team outscored the other by eight or more goals in the first two games, and none of the other nine victims rallied to win the series. In fact, only one of the nine, the 1997 Chicago Blackhawks, even extended the series to six games.
The actual facts:
1994: The New York Rangers beat the Islanders, 6-0 and 6-0, en route to a first round sweep that ended with the Rangers’ only Stanley Cup in the last 74 years.
1995: Detroit mauled San Jose, winning 6-0 and then 6-2 three straight times en route to the Finals. The Wings lost to New Jersey, which clocked Boston, 5-0 and 3-0, in a first-round sweep.
1996: Colorado beat Florida, 3-1 and 8-1 in the first two games of a Finals sweep.
1997: Colorado beat those Blackhawks, 6-0 and 3-1, on the way to the Western finals.
2006: Anaheim drilled Colorado, 5-0 and 3-0, and swept the ‘Lanche in the second round before being upset by Edmonton. New Jersey hammered the Rangers, 6-1 and 4-1 in a first-round sweep before losing to eventual C-winner Carolina.
2010: Philadelphia went 6-0, 3-0 in Montreal in the Eastern finals, winning in five games and then losing the Cup to Chicago.
2013: Boston beat Pittsburgh, 3-0 and 6-1, en route to a sweep in the Eastern finals before losing to Chicago in the Finals.
In sum, teams that get beaten up early in a series do not typically cheat the reaper. They go down, and they go down quickly. In the nine series, the team that won the first two games won 18 of the following 22 games.
If this is dispositive of anything, it is that the Kings will have to defy the forces of nature that have combined to put them in this hole. Teams with four fully functioning lines tend to have this advantage anyway, and in such a circumstance the opponent better have a truly transcendent goaltender.
[KURZ: Fourth line showing Sharks have more depth than Kings]
The Kings have that in Jonathan Quick, but Quick was been as much perpetrator as victim in the first two games. Not that he cannot be the one-man-band to change this series starting Tuesday, but that’s not the way to bet.
It’s also not safe to assume that this is the start of parade plans in San Jose. After all, only two of the other nine teams won the Cup because early returns are not always a precursor of longterm success.
But the math says, and hold on to your hats with this discovery, it is better to have scored 13 goals and given up five in two games than the other way around. In short, the Kings would be doing something extraordinary just to get this series back to Los Angeles a second time, let alone back to San Jose for a third.
We are nothing if not metrically cutting-edge.