Los Angeles vs. San Jose
Series Recommendation: San Jose +130
Two hated Pacific Division rivals clash in this first series. Los Angeles and San Jose faced one another two postseasons ago with the Sharks suffering a historic collapse after taking a 3-0 series lead. The Kings won four straight en route to their second Stanley Cup in three years. That series loss was the catalyst for San Jose to fire coach Todd McLellan and infuse youth within lockerroom. Now this team is hungry and ready to make another run into the playoffs after a one-year rebuild. The Kings also look primed and ready to make a deep postseason push after missing out on the playoffs last year. They became the first team since the 2007-08 Carolina Hurricanes to miss the postseason a year removed from winning the Stanley Cup.
Both of these teams are built in similar fashion with big, strong forwards up front who have the skills to score but also the toughness to bang bodies along the boards. They each have very dangerous power play attacks and neither club takes a ton of dumb penalties. However, given the nature and history of this rivalry, we will definitely see our fair share of hits, collisions, extracurriculars after the whistle, and maybe even a fight or two. The one glaring edge in this match-up is goaltending. Jonathan Quick is one of the best goalies in the world when he's hot and with his deep playoff experience, he is always a guy the Kings can rely on to steal a game. He'll either face off against his old back-up in Martin Jones, who has done a stellar job this season but doesn't have any postseason experience, or James Reimer, who was acquired from Toronto near the trade deadline. The 28-year-old backstop played in one postseason series a few years ago and has looked good since joining the club with a 6-2 record.
The Sharks hold the best road record in the NHL this season going 28-10-3 away from the SAP Center and 9-4-1 versus Pacific Division opposition as a visitor. With San Jose starting this series on the road, this will be a major factor early as they have a chance to neutralize any home-ice edge the Kings would have should the Sharks pick up a victory within the first two contests of this series.
I expect this to be one of the roughest series of all of the first round series with past events looming in the heads of veteran Sharks players like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. This is a far more even matchup than the current price indicates. Look for San Jose to take one of the first two games and win the series at a nice plus price.