Tonight’s Stadium Series matchup between the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks doesn’t hold the Original Six allure of Boston/Montreal, nor does it carry the heft of Chicago/Detroit. Even Kings fans generally point to the mallards thirty miles to the south when naming their most bitter rival.
The debate as to the best NHL rivalries has even been discussed on these pages just a few months ago, with fan suggestions including Capitals/Penguins, Blues/Blackhawks, Avalanche/Wild, Rangers/Devils, Canadians/Leafs and Rangers/Islanders.With all due respect to the previous suggestions, on the Richter scale of rivalry intensity, the one showcased in tonight’s Stadium Series encounter is quickly becoming one of the NHL’s very best.
The rivalry contains the essential elements
What makes for a great rivalry? The following are factors that go into the equation:
Geographic and/or divisional proximity: It’s not mandatory (Kings/Blackhawks has become a marquee rivalry in its own right), but ‘turf war’ factors definitely stoke the fires. Both teams reside within the Pacific division, and the cities are a mere 350 miles apart. They bump into each other (literally and figuratively) more than enough times to qualify in this area.
A history of on-ice success: Both teams can lay claim here, albeit via sharply different paths. The Kings were one of the NHL’s least successful franchises until 2009-10, when they broke through with a 101 point regular season that ended in a first-round loss to the Vancouver Canucks. After another first-round loss (to the Sharks) the following year, the rest is history: two Stanley Cup championships over the next three seasons.
The Sharks, on the other hand, have had a long string of regular-season success. However, other than two Western conference finals appearances, they have very little to show for it.
Enmity between the two franchises: It wouldn’t be much of a rivalry if everyone held hands and sang Kumbaya. The Kings and Sharks don’t like one another, nor do their fan bases.
Star power: The names speak for themselves. Kopitar, Gaborik, Carter, Doughty, Quick, Thornton, Marleau, Pavelski, Couture and Burns are just a few of the high-profile players taking the ice between the two teams.
High-profile battles: This factor dovetails with the previous ones, but is amplified by magnitude. L.A./Chicago has become a great rivalry not because of geography, but because both teams have become Western conference powers that have squared off in key games, including two straight Western conference finals.
The Kings and Sharks have met in the playoffs three times over the past four seasons, with Los Angeles winning the past two times. After having suffered through a historic collapse in last year’s playoffs, San Jose would love nothing more than to exact sweet revenge.
The anticipation is growing
With tonight’s Stadium Series game next on the agenda, the rivalry is bound to become even more intense. The game will be played at Levi Stadium, and judging by social media, the anticipation is building:
— NHL (@NHL) February 21, 2015
— Emma Jayne (@emma_jayneee) February 20, 2015
The teams’ respective positions in the Western conference playoff race makes the Stadium Series matchup even more compelling. Los Angeles has won six straight to close within striking distance of the second wild card, while San Jose — just 3-5-2 in its last ten games — is still ahead of the Kings, albeit by the thinnest of margins.
The winner of tonight’s game could put themselves into prime position to secure a playoff slot with just over 20 games remaining in the regular season.
The rivalry shows no signs of slowing down
There is no reason to believe either team will regress significantly in the near-term future. Los Angeles has withstood the indefinite suspension of Slava Voynov and is making its patented late-season push. The Sharks have too much talent on the roster and within the organization to not remain a force, both now and in the coming years.
Given the factors listed above and the outlook for each franchise going forward, the rivalry should only continue to grow. It may never quite reach the intensity of some of the NHL’s most storied battles, but few would argue that at least for now, it’s center stage for one of the league’s very best.
What do you think? Is the Kings/Sharks rivalry one of the premiere ones in the league, or are there too many better ones to hand it that label? Leave your thoughts below, or message me @McLaughlinWalt.