Sharks show they aren't overmatched

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SAN JOSE, Calif. -- So that's what 11 months of pent-up frustration looks like?

The San Jose Sharks delivered some kind of statement Thursday night in Game 1 of their first-round matchup with the rival Los Angeles Kings. A 6-3 victory that checked off about a million things from a wish list they could have only dreamed of accomplishing in the series opener.

To wit:

• Make Jonathan Quick look human. Check. He was pulled after 40 minutes and victimized for five goals, which is half of what he gave up in the entire seven-game series last spring against San Jose.

• Set a physical tone against one of the NHL's heaviest teams. Check. Big time.

• As a follow to that, specifically target Kings star blueliner Drew Doughty and pound him at every chance. Check.

• Get meaningful contributions from two players just returning to the lineup after missing most of the season recovering from knee injuries/surgeries. Check. Mark that as a goal apiece from Tomas Hertl and Raffi Torres.

• Get a solid goaltending performance from Antti Niemi, who had struggled down the stretch. Check. OK, he wasn't overly tested, but he still looked confident when called upon.

• Get some offense from the third and fourth lines. Check. How about seven points (two goals, five assists) total from those bottom six forwards?

I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

"First two periods, I don't think we could have done anything better," top Sharks blueliner Marc-Edouard Vlasic said.

About the only check mark missing was playing a full 60 minutes. The Sharks took the foot off the gas and paid for it in the third period. The Kings came out for the final period like a wounded animal, their pride a little damaged after going down 5-0 through 40 minutes.

But, at the end of the day, the damage was already done.

"I think we weren't ready to start," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "They got up to a 3-0 lead and sloppy play, turnovers, bad changes, odd-man rushes. We probably gave up more odd-man rushes in the first period than we have in the last ... I don't know. When you give a team like that opportunities on the odd-man, they're going to make you pay, and that's what they did.

?"It was more of the same in the second."

It's only one game, of course, and the playoff-savvy Kings will bounce back. You can be assured of that.

But it's a statement victory that meant a lot for a Sharks team that couldn't afford the seeds of doubt to creep in by losing the opener and having two days off to think about it before their next game Sunday night.

The tone was set, perhaps, as early as when the lineups were announced. Rugged winger Mike Brown was inserted instead of Martin Havlat.

Brown combined on a fourth unit with Torres and Andrew Desjardins to form a mash unit that hit everything in sight, including Brown bowling over Quick in the first period to ignite the first brouhaha of the series.

It took absolutely zero time for these two teams to hate each other again after last spring's seven-game Kings victory.

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.

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