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This time Los Angeles Kings have a key leg to stand on vs. Sharks

Last time Kings met San Jose in playoffs, in 2011, they lost with Anze Kopitar (broken ankle) out and Justin Williams (shoulder) slowed. Things look better now.

May 14, 2013|By Lisa Dillman, Los Angeles Times
  • Kings' Anze Kopitar battles for position against St. Louis Blues' Jaden Schwartz during Game Six of the first-round series.
Kings' Anze Kopitar battles for position against St. Louis Blues'… (Jeff Gross / Getty Images )

Anze Kopitar was doing his best work with crutches, not a hockey stick, and teammate Justin Williams was courageously trying to do his best on the ice, nursing a separated shoulder.

The big two? More like a battered two the last time the Kings met San Jose in the NHL playoffs, two long and winding years ago, a first-round series the Sharks won in six games.

"It wasn't great," Kopitar said.

That was the first thing Kopitar remembered — well, who is ever going to forget a fractured ankle? — when the broader topic of the shifting fortunes of the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings and the Sharks came up Monday morning.

Los Angeles versus San Jose in the Western Conference semifinals, starting Tuesday night at Staples Center. If the other West semifinal matchup, Detroit versus Chicago, is a classic Original Six showdown, the Kings and Sharks could be the California State Championship with a touch of sunblock.

Just don't try to call it the Darryl Sutter Bowl. The former Sharks coach and current Kings coach has spoken fondly about his years in San Jose, where he often spent time with hard-working non-sports fans who wouldn't ask questions about the power play and contract holdouts.

But this wasn't going to be one of those cheery Hallmark memory-lane days.

"I've played them enough with other teams already," Sutter said, doing the math. "One, two, three. This is the third or fourth series already. It'd be different if I was a kid. But I'm not."

For the Kings there is the Sutter Era and the Pre-Sutter Era. That came into focus, again, when he was reminded that this is the first time the Kings have had home-ice advantage in the playoffs since 1992.

"The first time since I've been here, so it's not that long," said Sutter, who was hired in December 2011. "It's barely a year. . . . I look at it as our team has played six rounds in a year."

Terry Murray was coaching the Kings when they lost to the Sharks in 2011, a series that featured three overtime games, all going San Jose's way. There are many differences between the coaches, but Sutter's style is to not get caught up in line matchups.

"Personally, I like that," Kopitar said. "Sometimes if you're matching up too much, you get out of the rhythm. Darryl just rides the bench as he feels and he feels that it's going to give us the best chance to win.

"We've experienced a little change between Terry and Darryl because Terry was more of a matchup guy, but Darryl just rides everybody that's going. And I like it."

Kings captain Dustin Brown had the sense that this series could come down to goaltending and special teams. The Sharks swept the Vancouver Canucks in the opening round and their power play was impressive, going seven for 24. The Kings' penalty killing was just as good in their first-round series win over St. Louis, which converted only two of 17 power play chances in six games.

"They really thrive on their power play," Brown said. "You look at their stretches during the regular season when they went on those tears, it's because their power play was really good. Our PK was good last series, but it's going to have to be even better against these guys."

If the hiring of Sutter was the defining moment for the Kings last season, it was perhaps an out-of-the-box move that helped revitalize the Sharks in this lockout-shortened season. Defenseman Brent Burns was moved up front in March and found a happy home on Joe Thornton's line, especially excelling against the Kings. Burns had eight points and had a plus-five rating in four regular-season games versus Los Angeles.

"He's fit in surprisingly well. I don't think anyone knew how well that would work out — maybe except for the guys in San Jose when they did it," Kings defenseman Robyn Regehr said. "It's been effective for them. Those top two lines are definitely a huge part of their offense."

Regehr was asked, jokingly, if he could envision making a Burns-like change.

"No," he said, immediately. "But Burns was always a very good skating, offensive-minded defenseman. I don't know how they saw it or who saw it in him."

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