The San Jose Sharks host the Los Angeles Kings Wednesday night in Game 7 of their first round playoff series, with the winner due a date with the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference semifinals. So far, the series has had two massive swings. The Sharks started out hot, scoring 17 goals and sweeping the first three games. In the last three games, it’s been the Kings hot, winning all three games and outscoring the Sharks 13-4 in the process.
So, what will Game 7 bring to this up-and-down series? Fans watching will know that answer once the two teams settle the following questions between them:
Will the home crowd spur on the Sharks?
The Sharks enjoy one of the NHL’s best home ice advantages playing at the sold-out SAP Center. This regular season, they tied for fourth in the league with a .677 point percentage at home, netting 24 regulation and overtime wins. When the crowd is loud, the Sharks typically respond with jump, using their speed to spread the ice and create scoring chances off the transition game. It didn’t work in a flat performance in Game 5, but it worked in Game 7 against the Red Wings two seasons ago. If the Sharks can start fast, advantage Sharks.
Will the Kings’ Justin Williams come through again in Game 7?
So far in the series, Williams has four goals and an assist, and his five points are second on the Kings. But that might not be as important as Williams’ previous clutch play in Game 7s. Last year against the Sharks in Game 7, Williams scored both goals in a 2-1 win. In three Game 7s earlier in his career, he has scored in each, and not coincidentally his team is undefeated in those Game 7s. Williams has two Stanley Cup rings already in his career, and if his depth production pays off again, advantage Kings.
Will the Sharks’ goaltending respond?
The Kings’ Jonathan Quick was very substandard at the beginning of the series, allowing 16 goals in the first three games. Since then, he’s found his world-class form, holding the Sharks to just four goals in the last three games, including a shutout last Saturday night in San Jose. In the meantime, the Sharks’ goaltending has been a question since before the series started. Regular Antti Niemi got the nod at the beginning of the series, despite his struggles down the stretch of the regular season. Even with his Stanley Cup pedigree, his .882 Save Percentage earned him a spot on the bench in favor of rookie Alex Stalock for Game 6. If Quick outplays whoever earns the start for the Sharks, advantage Kings.
Will the Kings D continue to keep the play in front of them?
The Sharks had their way offensively and in transition the first three games. Since then, they’ve had trouble getting the puck deep, and it’s been a function of the Kings’ core strengths. The Kings’ forecheck has created a number of Sharks turnovers in the defensive zone, while the strong, standup play of Drew Doughty and mates on the blueline have kept the pressure off Quick. If the Sharks can get the puck deep and create space, advantage Sharks.
Will the Sharks have an answer to Jarret Stoll?
Stoll has been gum under the Sharks’ shoes the entire series, with his physical play on both ends of the ice and his prowess in the faceoff circle – he’s won 56.1% of his draws in the series. And while the Sharks’ James Sheppard has two goals and three assists in six games, Stoll has at times dominated him – to such an extent that Sharks coach Todd McLellan has been forced to move 41-goal scorer Joe Pavelski down the lines to better match up. If Stoll runs roughshod early in Game 7, advantage Kings.
Which team shows up?
These two teams are too good and too closely matched to expect to win without playing their very best. Their very best has been the Sharks in Games 1-3 and the Kings in Games 4-6. Fans can only hope those two teams are the teams that show on Wednesday night. If so, we’re all in for a treat.
The Sharks have home ice advantage, but all the pressure; the Kings have all the momentum and a chance to become just the fourth team in NHL history to come back from a 0-3 deficit and win a series. The team that responds better and settles the questions above can book its flight to Anaheim.
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