A series that many expect to be full of physicality — and bad blood — will be ratcheted up a notch tonight.
San Jose forward Raffi Torres will play against the Kings in Game 1 of their first-round series on Thursday, marking the first time he’ll suit up after missing the final 17 games of the regular season.
Torres missed virtually the entire campaign after tearing up his knee in an exhibition game against Anaheim. He initially returned to the Sharks lineup on Feb. 27, but only played five games before shutting it down again to re-strengthen the ligaments in preparation for the playoffs.
Ah yes, the playoffs. The place where Torres has established his reputation.
Known as one of the most feared hitters in the NHL, Torres has twice been suspended during the postseason for delivering big blows: One for drilling Chicago forward Marian Hossa and, most recently, for hitting Kings forward Jarret Stoll during last year’s second-round series:
The Stoll hit was just one of the many that’s led to serious animosity between L.A. and San Jose.
Earlier this season, Kings captain Dustin Brown sidelined Sharks rookie Tomas Hertl for 45 games with this hit:
The Sharks were irate following the incident, and not just because they lost the services of their rookie sensation, who had 10 goals and 25 points in his first 35 games. GM Doug Wilson said he was “disappointed” in Brown’s lack of concern for Hertl — following the game, Brown said the refs got the call wrong — and in the first rematch between L.A. and San Jose, Tommy Wingels blasted Brown for declining his invite to fight, saying the Kings captain “doesn’t want to own up” for what he did to Hertl.
The series gets underway tonight from the SAP Center in San Jose. You can catch it live on NBSN starting at 10:30 p.m. ET.
Fast fights: Bieksa makes quick work of Giordano, Tinordi roughs up Torres
In one of them, Vancouver Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa didn’t appreciate a hit by Calgary Flames blueliner Mark Giordano, who seemed out of his element in this bout:
Getty Images has a great shot of the aftermath of the squabble:
The other fast bit of fisticuffs happened when Montreal Canadiens tough guy Jarred Tinordi took offense to a hit San Jose Sharks agitator Raffi Torres delivered on Lars Eller. Video of the fight hasn’t been uploaded in a form that can be embedded just yet, but RDS has a clip that can be seen via this link.
“I didn’t think I’d be able to get back this fast because my last time it took over a year to feel really good,” Torres said Thursday, crediting San Jose’s medical and training staff. “We’re only at five months and I feel great.”
Torres would plug in right away in the Sharks’ bottom six forwards and provide them with a physical and irritating player for opponents to deal with.
Last season, Torres had 18 points in 39 games with the Sharks and Phoenix Coyotes and only 17 penalty minutes. After years of controversial hits in Vancouver and Phoenix, Torres appeared to be turning his game around in the right direction with the Sharks.
San Jose will be hoping the energetic style of play will be back with him when he gets back on the ice for good.
Torres said he will “maybe” play before the Olympic break, and has skated every day for a week. Torres has not played this season, since undergoing right knee surgery after tearing his ACL in a preseason game on Sep. 20.
Torres, 32, inked a three-year, $6 million extension with the Sharks this past summer. He proved to be a valuable asset for the organization despite being suspended for the length of San Jose’ second-round playoff series against the Kings, after a high hit on L.A. forward Jarret Stoll.
Aside from that suspension, Torres was a key contributor. He had six points in 11 regular-season games after the Sharks acquired him from Phoenix at the ’13 trade deadline, and scored the Game 2 OT winner against Vancouver in the opening playoff round.