If someone said before the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings series began that it would go seven games, no one would have been surprised.
These two teams have been duking it out for years in the playoffs, and this is the 41st meeting between the two clubs in the last four years. They know each other well, and that kind of familiarity can bring about some great hockey.
But there are fewer people who could have seen things playing out like they have. The Sharks won the first three games in convincing style, but the Kings came roaring back and have won the last three to force this Game 7.
The Sharks are staring down the barrel of becoming the fourth team in NHL history to blow a 3-0 series lead and lose a series.
The Sharks aren’t unfamiliar with this kind of challenge. In 2011, the Sharks built up a 3-0 lead over the Detroit Red Wings, only to lose the next three games in a row. They ended up prevailing 3-2 in that Game 7, also played in San Jose, and they still have a great number of the veterans who were on that team dressing for them in Wednesday’s battle.
Aside from the history involved, there aren’t really any big differences between the two sides. Both teams are averaging 3.5 goals per game in the series. And while the Sharks hold a slight edge in shots per game (just two and a half shots per contest), the Kings have the advantage in both power play percentage and penalty killing percentage.
The real question is which players for the Kings will be key to them overcoming the Sharks for the fourth consecutive game and finishing off one of the most improbable comebacks in league history.
Will be Jonathan Quick, who has rebounded incredibly well from the struggles that he had in the first three games of the series? Will it be Justin Williams, who scored twice in Game 6 to help force a Game 7 in this series? Will it be Drew Doughty, who has quietly picked up six assists in the team’s last five games?
Odds are, it won’t be any of those players, but rather a player that is considered more of a “role player” than a star.
In that case, we’re going to go with forward Tyler Toffoli, who has quietly had an excellent series for the Kings.
So far in the six games, he has been averaging just over 12 minutes per game of ice time, but he has two goals and two assists, with both of his goals serving as game winning tallies in Games 4 and 5 of the series.
Toffoli was held off the scoresheet on Monday night for the first time since the Kings’ 7-2 Game 2 loss earlier in the series, but he still managed three shots on goal and looked just as good as he has all series long. If the Kings are going to be victimized by the Sharks’ ability to dictate matchups as the home team in Game 7, Toffoli could be a key component as they try to get offense from anyone that they can.