Having personally witnessed last spring's seven-game series between the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings, let me just say what a joy it is to see them clash yet again. The Kings won the second-round series by a hair last spring, all seven games won by the home team, including Game 7 at Staples Center. It was sweet revenge for the Kings after a 2011 six-game defeat by the Sharks. Meeting in the playoffs for the third time in four years, it won't take long for this series to get ratcheted up a notch. These teams don't like each other. That was obvious April 3, their last meeting of the 2013-14 regular season, the Sharks prevailing 2-1 at home in a very physical and chippy affair, each team seemingly trying to send a message ahead of a likely first-round series. And perhaps the Sharks needed badly to win that game because the Kings had won three of the previous four meetings this season, the Sharks losing both games in Los Angeles. This time around, if there is a Game 7, it will be at the SAP Center in San Jose. Will home ice matter as much this time around? The Sharks certainly hope so. The Kings will try to duplicate their 2012 Cup-champion road-warrior ways, when they went a sensational 10-1 in enemy buildings that spring en route to their first-ever championship.
Kings: Drew Doughty
The star blueliner banged up his shoulder late in the regular season, so all eyes will be on how he fares early in this series. If he's close to healthy, there isn't a player on either team who can have a bigger impact on the flow of a game. He's a stud at both ends of the ice and has the knack to step up the bigger the game is, as we saw once again at the Sochi Olympics this year.
Sharks: Marc-Edouard Vlasic
For too long an underrated player, Vlasic got more national attention for his sparkling and steady play in Sochi, where he just happened to be Doughty's partner on defense for Olympic-champion Team Canada. What many fans in other markets found out from Sochi is what people in San Jose have known for a long time: Vlasic is as dependable and mistake-free as they come in his own zone, while also adding a bit more offense to his game this season. He'll be charged with trying to shut down the Kings' top line in this series.
Kings: Justin Williams
The 32-year-old winger just has a knack for scoring the clutch goal in big matchups, particularly in Game 7s. He had a pair of goals last spring in the Game 7 win over the Sharks, and throughout his career has always showed the ability to step up in big games. The oft-injured Williams also has been able to stay healthy this season, not missing any games. On a team where more focus will lie with the likes of Anze Kopitar, Marian Gaborik and Jeff Carter when it comes to offense up front, Williams could again be the sneaky weapon.
Sharks: Joe Pavelski