The defending Stanley Cup champions will kick off the second round on home ice, as the Los Angeles Kings host the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday in the opener of the Western Conference semifinals.
With their first-round victory over St. Louis, the Kings became the first team in NHL history to win five straight playoff series despite opening each set on the road. In Round 2, however, the Kings will open a playoff series at home for the first time since 1992.
As the Western Conference's eighth seed a season ago, the Kings knocked off the Vancouver Canucks, St. Louis Blues, Phoenix Coyotes and New Jersey Devils to win their first ever Stanley Cup championship and did so without home-ice advantage in any of the four rounds.
Los Angeles also opened up the 2013 postseason on the road with a rematch against the Blues and dropped the first two games of the series in St. Louis before rebounding to win the next four contests. All six games were decided by a single goal and the fifth-seeded Kings finally grabbed a series advantage by winning Game 5, 3-2 in overtime on defenseman Slava Voynov's winner eight minutes into the bonus frame before taking Game 6 by a 2-1 margin at home.
It was the Kings' 10th straight victory at home dating back to the regular season.
"I think we're confident now," said Kings center Mike Richards.
The Kings will now get ready to open their first playoff series at home since the 1992 division semifinals against the Edmonton Oilers. Los Angeles lost that series in six games and hasn't won a set it opened at home since beating Vancouver in six games during the 1991 division semifinals.
L.A. is 4-5 all-time in the playoffs in sets that begin at home.
After averaging 2.73 goals per game during the regular season, the Kings averaged just two per contest versus the Blues, but turned up the defense by yielding just 1.67 goals per game. A lot of the credit should go to netminder and reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Quick, who allowed more than two goals in a game just once during the series with the Blues.
Even more important, Quick did not get rattled after losing the first two games of the set following an inconsistent regular season. He ended Round 1 with a 1.58 goals against average, .944 save percentage and one shutout.
The sixth-seeded Sharks turned in a solid four-game sweep of the Northwest Division-champion Vancouver Canucks in the opening round. However, San Jose hopes its poor play on the road this season doesn't prevent it from getting past the Kings in the second round
The Sharks went just 8-14-2 on the road this season, negating an outstanding 17-2-5 mark at home. So, there had to have been a sense of relief when the Sharks won their first two games in Vancouver before opening up the home portion of its playoff schedule with a 5-2 victory in Game 3. San Jose then showed its resilience, again rallying from behind to win the series-clincher 4-3 in overtime.
"In the past you kind of felt the pressure. This year we didn't feel that way and maybe that carried through into third periods," said Sharks head coach Todd McLellan about his team's mindset in this postseason.
"We're a loose group, playing free. (There's) not a lot of expectations that are put on us from the outside that have been on us in the past."
The Sharks used an excellent power play to get by the Canucks, scoring seven of their 15 goals on the man advantage. All three of Logan Couture's first- round goals came on the power play, while Joe Pavelski also scored a trio of goals on the man advantage.
That helped the duo pace the Sharks with eight points each, taking some pressure off of expected scorers Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. Not that the two didn't do their jobs, with Thornton notching four power-play assists as part of his six first-round points. Marleau added four goals and an assist versus Vancouver.
In addition to killing off two of 10 short-handed situations, the defensive story was goaltender Antti Niemi, who helped the Chicago Blackhawks win a Stanley Cup in 2010 but had been less than impressive during his two playoff runs with the Sharks. That all changed in the first round, with the 2013 Vezina Trophy finalist winning a pair of overtime games while posting a 1.86 goals against average and .937 save percentage.
In front of Niemi, McLellan continued to spread his minutes out between his six defenders. Dan Boyle (23 minutes) and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (22 minutes, 40 seconds) were the team leaders, while Justin Braun, Brad Stuart, Matt Irwin and Scott Hannan all averaged at least 17 minutes of ice time per game.
That also allowed former blueliner Brent Burns to remain up front at forward, where he notched a goal and two assists.
Boyle, Burns and Hannan combined for two goals and seven points, while forward Raffi Torres provided some energy with 14 hits to along with solid speed.
Depth could be an issue for the Sharks in Round 2. Forward Martin Havlat did not play after Game 1 due to injury and he is not expected to return until at least Game 3 of this series. Veteran Scott Gomez filled in for Havlat in the last round. Fellow forward Adam Burish, a key penalty-killer for the Sharks, is also expected to miss the entire second round with an upper-body injury suffered in Game 4 against Vancouver.
This will mark just the second postseason meeting between these two Pacific Division rivals. The Sharks got the best of the Kings in six games during the 2011 conference quarterfinals. Thornton, Marleau and Couture all had two goals and three assists in the set, while Pavelski had three goals.
The Kings and Sharks split four regular-season meetings this year, with each team winning twice at home. The Sharks and Kings faced off in their respective regular-season finales, with L.A. notching a 3-2 win.
Los Angeles has won six of its last seven at home versus the Sharks, but has dropped six in a row in San Jose.
Game 2 of this series is scheduled for Thursday in L.A.