Tonight's the night. I expect both teams to play a conservative defensive game, everyone doing their best to make something happen without taking any stupid risks. When mistakes are made, though, the Sharks' superior offensive talent will be able to make the Kings pay.
San Jose has been here before. They have proven playoff performers and cup winners on the team. The Sharks won't be underestimating the Kings, but they should be full of the confidence that their performance over the past few months deserves. Everything has been clicking for the Sharks since January, and all they have to do is keep doing what has been working.
Justin Williams should be back for the Kings after his injury, so that's good for them. The Sharks get Ryane Clowe back after his brief absence. Justin Williams is a big addition for the Kings, but Ryane Clowe actually scored more points than Williams this season so both teams have reason to celebrate.
Here are my predictions for player of the game. I'll choose a dark horse and, uh...whatever the opposite of that is. A bright horse, I guess?
Dark Horse POTG - Ben Eager. He only scored one goal in the playoffs last year for the Blackhawks, but it was a huge one: the game winner of game two of the finals. Since Ryane Clowe is returning from an injury Ben Eager will be called upon for the Sharks if the situation gets physical. Maybe he gets a garbage goal in this game, so everybody can talk about how important "gritty, character guys" are in the playoffs?
Bright Horse POTG - Antti Niemi. This is it. This is really the whole reason the Sharks went after Niemi: the playoffs. Sure he was great down the stretch in the regular season, but Evgeni Nabokov had solid regular seasons too. Now is the time when Niemi will really shine. He can be a difference-maker tonight.
Prediction: Sharks win 3-1, with goals from Ben Eager, Dan Boyle, and Joe Thornton.