(Hat tip to Sharks Sports and Entertainment's social sites for the image.)
Sunday night, we did it - the Sharks beat the Kings to force a Game Seven in Los Angeles.
As noted in an earlier post, Sharks fans should really care about this one. If the Sharks manage to down the Kings in tonight's game, this will be the best shot at the Stanley Cup the team has ever had. Other than the Sharks, there are no teams in the playoffs right now with as much defense, coupled with equally impressive offense, as the Kings. The Boston Bruins is about as tough as an Eastern Conference team can get, and the two Western Conference teams remaining, the Detroit Red Wings and the Chicago Blackhawks, are tough, but may not be able to weather the storm either the Sharks or the Kings may put out this post-season.
During the post-season, both Sharks coach Todd McLellan and Kings coach Darryl Sutter have heavily modified their lines for the greatest output, whether it is properly matching up against opposing players or putting together unbelievable special teams to take advantage of any power play they can get. While some fans beg to differ, from an objective standpoint (by simply counting penalties from past game scoresheets), the referees have been pretty consistent in penalizing both sides. In Game Six, for example, after giving the Sharks a couple power plays, the referees made some questionable calls against the Sharks, although I seemed to be okay with their decisions to give both teams chances to score on power play advantages.
Tonight's game, statistically, will be a bit of an uphill battle for the Sharks. The most obvious conclusion is the home ice advantage for both teams (i.e. all wins have taken place on home ice). While it is arguable the Kings outplayed the Sharks so far this series in Game Five only (based on my interpretation of puck control and scoring opportunities), the Sharks have made far more devastating errors during the Series to provide the Kings with the edge. Many may remember Brad Stuart's giveaway in Game One or the game changing 5 on 3 penalty kill in the closing minutes of Game Two.
Predicting a Kings victory tonight would only be predicated on the obvious: the Sharks have yet to win in Los Angeles this post season. Many seem to forget the dominating performance during Game Two due to the devastating outcome in the final two minutes. The Sharks really need to focus on playing their game with raw, positive emotion, and allowing the team's defense to stand strong and keep the puck in the Kings' zone. Kings' goaltender Jonathan Quick needs to be heavily screened, and the Sharks need to pepper him with shots. (Quick is very human - remember T.J. Galiardi's snipe in Game Six?)
We've seen this before. Beating the Kings at home is a very possible situation. (Remember when the Sharks closed out the Kings in Round One of the 2011 Playoffs?) Look at the overall statistics and not simply the home versus away games.
Both teams are going to play tonight like it is Game Seven of the Finals, because in a way, it very might well be.
The NHL's two toughest teams are going to battle tonight. Let us hope we emerge victorious, and turn this "homer series" into a "homer and away series." Go Sharks!