(SportsNetwork.com) - The San Jose Sharks are out for revenge in the opening round of the playoffs, as they attempt to knock out the team that eliminated them from last spring's postseason.
The Sharks have home-ice advantage this time against the Los Angeles Kings, who are visiting the SAP Center for Thursday's Game 1 battle between the Pacific Division rivals.
This marks the third all-time playoff meeting between these clubs and second in a row. The Kings gutted out a low-scoring seven-game victory in last season's second round, one that left the franchise spent ahead of a five-game loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in the conference finals. San Jose lost the first two games of last year's playoff matchup versus Los Angeles before rallying to get back into the set.
The Sharks defeated L.A. in six games in the 2011 conference quarterfinals. That was the last time the Kings, who won the franchise's first Stanley Cup title in 2012, were knocked out in the first round.
These California rivals played a close five-game season series in 2013-14, with the Kings owning a 3-1-1 edge. The teams combined for just 21 goals and skated in four games decided by a single goal.
Kings netminder Jonathan Quick won both of his games this season versus the Sharks, giving up just three goals, and is 11-4-5 versus them in the regular season lifetime as well as 6-7 in the playoffs with a 2.25 goals against average and three shutouts.
Quick, the 2012 Conn Smythe winner, has excellent career playoff numbers, going 29-21 with a .929 save percentage and 2.03 in 50 lifetime postseason appearances.
Like Quick, the Sharks boast a goaltender with a Stanley Cup-winning resume in Antti Niemi, who won a title with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010. However, the 30-year-old Finn was less impressive in his first two appearances in the playoffs with the Sharks before a solid run in 2013.
Niemi went 7-4 with a 1.87 goals against average and .930 save percentage lasts spring as the Sharks swept their first-round series before a tight seven-game loss to the Kings. San Jose's No. 1 has had his struggles down the stretch this season, perhaps the result of having played in 64 games, and he'll have backup Alex Stalock hovering over his shoulder.
Niemi went 2-1-1 with a 2.67 GAA in this season's series, while Stalock lost his only start despite giving up just one goal. Niemi is 6-6 in the playoffs against the Kings with a 2.74 GAA and .897 save percentage.
Although Sharks head coach Todd McLellan would not officially reveal his starter for Game 1, all signs point to Niemi getting the call over Stalock.
Both the Kings and Sharks are deep at both ends of the ice, but L.A. uses its depth more for defense than offense. The Kings allowed an NHL-best 2.05 goals per game this season, but were ranked 26th in offense (2.42 gpg).
San Jose had a balanced attack, placing fifth in the league with 2.35 goals against per contest while tying St. Louis for sixth in scoring (2.92 gpg).
Both teams enter this playoff battle without many injuries to note. Kings No. 1 defenseman Drew Doughty is dealing with a bruised left shoulder, but he expects to play in Game 1.
The Sharks, meanwhile, saw forward Tomas Hertl return late in the regular season from a knee injury. Hertl missed over three months of action and 45 games after L.A. captain Dustin Brown delivered a knee-on-knee hit on the Czech rookie.
Hertl had 15 goals and 10 assists in 37 games this season and is hoping to prove himself in his first NHL postseason.
San Jose was 29-7-5 as the home team this season and will host Game 2 on Sunday. The Kings were 23-14-4 as the visiting club in 2013-14.