Jim Neveau, NHL Correspondent
In a year that saw all three California teams make the playoffs in the same season for the first time, it only seems appropriate that two of those squads will go up against each other. With the Ducks playing Pekka Rinne and the Nashville Predators, that leaves the second-seeded San Jose Sharks to deal with the seventh-seeded Los Angeles Kings.
There are a lot of different factors that will come into play in this series, and we’ll eventually discuss them, but for right now, it would be appropriate to examine which players on the Sharks and Kings will have the biggest impact on their team’s success. Without further adieu, here are the players who will need to shine on the big stage:
Joe Thornton – Coming off a season in which he notched the fewest points since the 2001-02 campaign, Thornton needs to be a catalyst if this team has any shot at advancing past the Kings. He is a very gifted puck-mover, but even with his talented linemates he still only managed 49 assists this season in 80 games. He did provide a lot of punch on the power play, scoring 33 of his 70 points on the man-advantage.
If the Kings can disrupt the Sharks’ top line, and shut Thornton down, that will be a huge blow to San Jose’s chances. If Thornton can overcome that pressure and perform at the level that folks are used to seeing him play at, then the Kings are going to have their hands full.
Logan Couture – The youngster is in the middle of Calder Trophy talk for a reason. His 32 goals represent a very surprising total for a Sharks team that wasn’t exactly counting on his production, and his 10 power play markers certainly helped San Jose become the 2nd rated power play unit in the league.
Being a young player in the playoffs always brings with it a lot of pressure, but if Couture can overcome that and produce at his regular season levels, he will make the Sharks’ scoring depth that much more formidable.
Justin Williams – Williams is currently shelved with a shoulder ailment, but his status will be re-evaluated after the Kings’ practice on Tuesday. Even if he is not 100% healthy, Williams is a hugely important component of the Kings’ offense with Anze Kopitar out with an ankle injury.
His season totals of 22 goals and 35 assists may not scream “elite offensive powerhouse,” but in a very young lineup in Los Angeles, a veteran presence like Williams is a crucial component in keeping the locker room at an even emotional level, and that cannot be overrated come playoff time.
Jonathan Quick – In the Mr. Obvious segment of the program, Quick is obviously a huge factor in the ultimate success of the Kings. His 2.24 GAA and .918 save percentage show that he is becoming one of the top goaltenders in the game, and if the Kings are going to shut an offense like San Jose down, they will need their keeper standing on his head.