Center Logan Couture (39) and the Sharks will renew their playoff rivalry… (Mark J. Terrill / Associated…)
Hockey fans will have to wait for the first-ever playoff series between the Kings and the Ducks, but a matchup between the Kings and the San Jose Sharks promises to be the next-best thing.
The Ducks on Wednesday wiped out any chance of there being a local derby in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs by clinching first place in the Pacific Division when they powered past the San Jose Sharks for a 5-2 victory at the Honda Center.
In winning, the Ducks assured themselves of the No. 1 or No. 2 seeding in the West -- they're a point ahead of St. Louis but the Blues have a game in hand -- and consigned the Sharks to second place in the Pacific and a matchup with the third-place Kings.
This will be the third playoff meeting in four seasons between the Sharks and Kings. The Sharks won the first one, a six-game, first-round series in 2011, and the Kings prevailed in seven games in the second round last season. So the clichés about the teams knowing each other and there being no surprises all apply here.
"It's going to be a great series," Sharks center Joe Thornton said.
It certainly has the makings of a memorable clash.
The Sharks' scoring ability has never been questioned, but their fortitude has been called into doubt. Their goaltending has been less than stellar lately, including the three soft goals yielded by Antti Niemi on Wednesday before he was pulled in favor of Alex Stalock.
Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle acknowledged he and his teammates were disappointed that the division title had slipped through their grasp.
"You can look at it tonight, you can look at it as something we did three, four, five games ago. You can go as far back as you want to go. That's just the way it goes," Boyle said Wednesday.
"We still like our team. We like our chances going into these playoffs. We were going to have a tough battle no matter who we were about to face, but obviously we've got our hands full with the team we're going to play."
The Kings' work ethic and defense are beyond question -- they've given up the fewest goals in the NHL, 169, in 80 games -- but their offense has been sporadic. Acquiring winger Marian Gaborik at the trade deadline has given them game-breaking potential they didn't have before, but their power play hasn't clicked as well as their talent suggests it should and goals are, too often, difficult to manufacture.
They'll come into the playoffs with some bumps and bruises, but they've had the luxury of knowing for awhile that they were locked into third place in the division, giving Coach Darryl Sutter the ability to rest a few players who have a lot of mileage.
Sharks Coach Todd McLellan said Wednesday he's reluctant to rest any of his players in the remaining two games but will consider reducing key players' minutes to prepare them for what's sure to be a bruising encounter with the Kings.
"It will be a hell of a series. Three out of four years, I think is what it is, and we have a ton of respect for their team and their organization," he said. "They've played hard all year and have been flying under the radar for awhile and getting ready to play. I think it will be a heck of a series. It will be a fun one to play in and we look forward to getting going."
Fun, in this case, will mean battles all over the ice in emotional, hard-fought games.
"The Kings are a good team. Physical. We're a good team. We're physical," standout Sharks center Joe Pavelski said. "They're a really good team. They play good defense so we'll have to be strong there and go from there."
Sharks forward Logan Couture, a childhood friend of Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, also anticipates a rugged series.
"It's going to be a battle. They're a hell of a hockey team," Couture said. "Line one through four, [defenseman] one through six or seven, and one of the best goalies in the world, so we're in for a challenge and we'd better be ready for it."
One other good thing about the Ducks facing a wild-card team and the Kings facing the Sharks is that the long-awaited Kings-Ducks series could still happen this spring, in the second round. That's something worth waiting for.