A San Jose Sharks-Los Angeles Kings game is about as good as it gets these days. Wednesday's 3-2 shootout win for the Sharks was an absolute beauty that I could have watched go into 12 overtimes. The Kings won the first game between these two in overtime earlier this season, so regulation cannot contain this rivalry. How tight are these two teams? The Sharks were this close to winning Wednesday's game in regulation.
The NHL will always have its attractive staple rivalries - Habs-Leafs, Devils-Rangers, Penguins-Flyers, Oilers-Flames, etc. - but Kings-Sharks might be the best one today. It has everything and has become a must-see game for every hockey fan. Here are five reasons why the Kings-Sharks rivalry is the very best rivalry today:
WELL, THEY'RE BOTH DARNED GOOD TEAMS
The Sharks and Kings are among the best four or five teams in the NHL. The Sharks have been in this group for much longer, winning at least 40 games in each full season since 2003-04, but the Kings are the ones with a Stanley Cup. At least one of these teams has been represented in the past four Western Conference finals and both look as prepared as ever to get back there again. Every time these two meet up in the regular season, it's like we get a taste of the playoff hockey we all crave.
SAN JOSE AND LOS ANGELES CAN FIGHT OVER GEOGRAPHY
It's a little easier and much more fun to cultivate a rivalry when the fan bases contest territory. It's about five and a half hours from SAP Center in San Jose to Staples Center in Los Angeles if you drive, which is about the same distance between Toronto and Montreal. But the Kings and Sharks both call California home. L.A., being the shiny, Hollywood commercial hub, is like big brother to San Jose, which naturally wants to stand taller. The "Beat L.A." chants thundering through the Sharks' home arena is a beautiful piece of harmless hate.
NON-TRADITIONAL HOCKEY MARKET RIVALRY = GROWTH OF THE GAME
The NHL has to love the fact two teams in a non-traditional hockey market can both arouse the passions of budding fan bases and draw attention from around the rest of the hockey world. Sharks-Kings games have become must-see TV for everybody, so if this is what someone being introduced to the game is seeing, the sell job won't be very hard.
THERE IS A VERY RECENT, VERY HEATED PLAYOFF HISTORY
The first time these two teams played in a post-season series was in 2010-11, with the Sharks winning the opening round 4-2. But the real jewel in this rivalry treated hockey fans last spring. The Sharks and Kings met in the second round last season with five of the seven games being decided by one goal. Game 7 of that showdown was frustrating, nail-biting, agonizing and, ultimately, fulfilling or heart-breaking, depending on who you were cheering for. With the new division and playoff alignments, here's hoping we see more series between these two teams.
AND FINALLY...STAR POWER GALORE
Both have a number of Olympians and high-end, marketable talent to showcase and draw in fans with. Joe Thornton has been a monster point-getter and playmaker his entire career, while Logan Couture and Antti Niemi are quickly rising stocks. The Kings, of course, have Conn Smythe and Vezina winner Jonathan Quick and add to that American attraction with the bulldozer Dustin Brown. Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Drew Doughty make up the Canadian contingent - but Slovenian Anze Kopitar might be the best of them all. And the stars from both teams go at each other hard, on and off the ice. Couture accused Brown of diving during last season's playoff series.
What do you think? Where does the Kings-Sharks rivalry rank in the NHL today?