The Kings, the Cup and Lord Stanley’s hangover

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If winning the Stanley Cup is one of the toughest accomplishments in sports, how tough is it to win two in a row?

That’s a question the LA Kings will answer in 2012-13.

Historically speaking, capturing consecutive titles has been difficult. There have been just two repeat champions since 1990 — the Pittsburgh Penguins 1991-92 and the Detroit Red Wings in 1997-98.

For you mathletes out there, that’s 15 years without a back-to-back champ — which isn’t overly surprising. A full playoff run combined with the regular season is (usually) over 100 games in length, a grind that takes a massive physical toll.

And since the lockout, that toll seems to have increased.

The 2006 Cup champion Hurricanes didn’t make the playoffs in 2007. The 2007 Cup champion Ducks lost in the opening round of the 2008 playoffs.

Detroit and Pittsburgh briefly reversed the trend by each making consecutive Stanley Cup finals in 2008-09, but the trend returned with the 2010 Cup champion Blackhawks (bounced in Round 1 of the 2011 playoffs) and the 2011 Cup champion Bruins (out in the opening round in 2012.)

That said, the Kings are uniquely positioned to buck that trend.

The biggest reason — as mentioned in the offseason report — is that L.A. returns almost its entire Cup-winning roster, a rarity in today’s NHL. Whereas the Bruins and Blackhawks lost key contributors following their victories, the Kings’ biggest loss might be Scott Parse, who appeared in nine regular season and zero playoff games.

Also consider the theory that Los Angeles’ run wasn’t super taxing. Taxing sure, but in the context of previous runs, not so much.

The Kings were average performers for half regular season — Anze Kopitar said they were “way more aggressive” after Darryl Sutter took over — and their playoff run consisted of 20 games with no series going longer than six (whereas three of Boston’s series went to Game 7.)

And hey, it wasn’t like the Kings were shouldering years of lengthy playoff runs. Last season was the first time L.A. advanced past the opening round since 2001.

The flip side of this, though, is that L.A. now has an unprecedented profile. The bullseye on its collective backs will be magnified by 1) the highest expectations in the club’s 45-year history, and 2) the immense spotlight that’s sure to be on Jonathan Quick after winning the Conn Smythe and signing a $58 million contract.

So…are the Kings well positioned to repeat, or will the task be too tall?

Let us know in the comments section.

What is wrong with the Sharks?

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Not that long ago, the San Jose Sharks appeared well on their way to winning the Pacific Division title.

On March 14, they had a seven-point lead on both Anaheim and Calgary. Gone is that advantage. Not only have the Ducks surged back into the fight for the division, but the Sharks have lost five in a row and are having a terrible time of late creating any offense.

Their struggles hit a new low Friday with a 6-1 loss to the Dallas Stars, a team with its own flaws and nowhere close to a playoff position.

At one point midway through the second period, the Sharks trailed the Stars by four goals and had only six lousy shots on goal. During this skid, San Jose has scored only five goals.

Earlier this week, members of the Sharks said they weren’t terribly worried about this losing streak. The losses, they had said, were in close games, which is true: San Jose lost three consecutive one-goal games.

“When I look at the losing streak, we dominated some of those games for long periods and found ways to lose. You never like to lose, but I’m not that concerned,” Sharks coach Pete DeBoer told CSN Bay Area. “We’ve got to obviously end it. We’ve got to get healthy. I don’t see a bunch of symptoms of a team that can’t get this fixed pretty quickly.”

This, however, was a blowout. Adam Cracknell recorded the hat trick, pushing his single-season career-high in goals to 10.

The performance at one point forced DeBoer to take a timeout, in which he expressed his displeasure.

Making matters worse for the Sharks: Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic left the game early in the third period and was put under further evaluation. He didn’t return.

The Sharks visit the Nashville Predators on Saturday.

Halak and the Islanders defeat Penguins, move into wild card spot

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Quite a hockey game between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

It offered plenty to enjoy — Phil Kessel‘s dominant but unfruitful shift in overtime, a combined 86 shots on goal between both teams, a showcase of skill from the likes of John Tavares and Sidney Crosby, and two strong goaltending performances from Jaroslav Halak and Marc-Andre Fleury.

Josh Ho-Sang, who wears No. 66, which is just fine in the eyes of Mario Lemieux, set up Brock Nelson‘s goal in the second period.

The Islanders and their fans probably aren’t hung up on style points at this juncture of the season. They just care about wins and points in the standings, and those are exactly what New York accomplished with a 4-3 shootout win in Pittsburgh.

Anthony Beauvillier and Tavares scored for the Islanders in the shootout. Halak made 37 stops, including a game-saver in overtime off Matt Cullen. Halak trapped the puck, which was right on the goal line, between his legs on a chance from in front. The play was reviewed but no goal.

The win gives the Islanders 82 points, which is the same total as the struggling Boston Bruins.

However, the Islanders, with one game in hand on the Bruins, take over the final wild card spot in the East for now.

Video: Friday night fights between Bolts and Red Wings

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Not much offense — actually, just one goal midway through the second period as of the writing of this post — between the Detroit Red Wings and Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday.

But there has definitely been some animosity between the two clubs.

Tempers flared late in the first period, with Adam Erne and Andreas Athanasiou getting involved in a spirited scrap — and Athanasiou unsuccessful in his attempt at the take-down.

The bad blood continued in the second period with Greg McKegg and Anthony Mantha getting involved in a fight, and Mantha — given the instigator — landing a couple of shots with McKegg on the ice.

 

NHL, MLB player unions support U.S. women hockey players’ boycott

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Unions representing NHL and Major League Baseball players are backing U.S. Women’s National Hockey team players’ decision to boycott next week’s world championships because of a wage dispute.

The NHL Players’ Association posted a note on its Twitter account on Friday saying it supports the U.S. players while panning USA Hockey’s bid to stock the team with replacements. The NHLPA says the decision to go with replacement players “would only serve to make relations, now and in the future, much worse.”

Earlier in the day, the MLB Players Association encouraged all women hockey players to stand united behind their national team colleagues.

Read more: USA Hockey says it will not offer living wage, as dispute with women’s national team continues

The Twitter messages were posted a day after USA Hockey announced it would begin gauging interest of replacement players to compete at the tournament, which opens next Friday in Plymouth, Michigan.

Players are seeking a four-year contract that includes payments outside the six-month Olympic period.