A breakdown of the keys to the Sharks-Kings NHL playoff series:
1. Can the Kings reel in the Sharks?
Stopping the St. Louis Blues and their pop-gun offense in the first round was one thing. The Kings could count the number of truly dangerous offensive players in the Blues' lineup on two fingers. The Sharks' scoring depth is much greater, with Brent Burns, Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton leading an efficient attack. The Kings can't focus their defensive attention on only one or two players. They'll need to cast a wider net to catch the Sharks.
2. Can the Kings score more goals?
Fans of rock 'em, sock 'em hockey were sure to be pleased by the Kings' punishing victory over the equally physical Blues. This is a different series. It might prove to be another grinding one, but conventional wisdom suggests the Kings need to produce more against the Sharks than the 12 goals they had in six games against the Blues. Defense has its place, to be sure, but the Kings can't expect to win while averaging only two goals per game against a team that averaged almost four.
3. Who wins the goaltenders' duel?
Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner as MVP of the 2012 playoffs, stopped 167 out of 177 shots during the series victory over St. Louis for a .944 save percentage. He also had one shutout in the first round. Antti Niemi saved 118 of 126 shots in the Sharks' first-round sweep of the Vancouver Canucks for a .937 save percentage. The team that wins the series almost always has the better goaltending and nothing figures to change in this case.
4. Who's a more valuable playmaker?
Joe Thornton's playoff failures have become the stuff of legend and there's considerable pressure on his jumbo-sized shoulders to carry the Sharks to their first Stanley Cup Final after so many years of coming up short. His playmaking skills, especially on the power play, cannot be overlooked, however. He has four assists on the man-advantage. Anze Kopitar scored only one goal during the first round for the Kings, but he had three assists and was as steady as ever in the other facets of the game.
5. Can the Kings win as the favorites?
Incredible as it might seem, the Kings haven't held home-ice advantage since 1992. The Kings have it again (finally!) as the Western Conference's fifth-seeded team against the No. 6 Sharks. The Kings won four consecutive series without home ice last season to become the first No. 8-seeded team to win the Stanley Cup. They didn't have it in the first round and upended the No. 4 Blues. Their five-series winning streak without home ice is the longest in NHL history.