Torres missed the final six games of that series after being suspended for his hit on Jarret Stoll, and his absence was deeply missed. As Sharks coach Todd McLellan remarked somewhat prophetically on Thursday morning, Torres isn't just a part of the Sharks forecheck, he's at the forefront of it.
He crushed Kings defenseman Alec Martinez in the corner in the opening period Thursday night and also smartly intercepted a Willie Mitchell pass at the Sharks blue line, which set up a nice scoring chance for himself. Then, he rifled home a rebound to give San Jose a 4-0 lead at 12:57 in the second, his celebration pure emotion after a season from hell.
"It's been a long year," Torres said. "It's nice to get on the board offensively and contribute."
All in all, it was a heck of a performance by Torres on this night. Not bad for a guy who hadn't played since March 8 and appeared in only five games all season long.
"[Torres] was hungry to play, which was a nice thing. I think that energy and enthusiasm ran through our lineup," McLellan said. "That line was physical. They were on their toes and played a very solid game tonight. Raffi was a big part of it. We're fortunate to have him back. You could still see that he hasn't played a lot of hockey. He managed himself very well, very short shifts, got on and got off to let someone else do their work."
It wasn't just Torres, though. Overall, the Sharks as a team made a point of finishing their checks. It's as if they were trying to bully their bullies.
"Everyone knows they lead the league in hits," said Vlasic, one of six different goal scorers on this night for the Sharks. "We wanted to be physical as well. We wanted to match their game plan, and we came out and dictated the pace."
You could sense the annoyance on the part of some Sharks players in the days leading up to Game 1, as they were well aware most people had picked the Kings to win. Sharks blueliner Dan Boyle repeated a few times this week: "We keep hearing how the Kings are built for the playoffs."
On this night, the Sharks proved they were as well.
But there's also a keen awareness of the team they're facing.
"We're fooling ourselves if we think it's going to be a quick series," Torres said. "Those guys know how to win. We know that they're going to bounce back and come out flying. We got to be ready for them."
Buckle up, this baby is going to be a long one, but the team with more to prove in this series made its opening point loud and clear.