SAN JOSE -- This is one playoff series that won't need a spark to ignite things.
When the Sharks meet the Los Angeles Kings in Game 1 on Thursday night, expect the intensity to be there from the opening faceoff. This is the third postseason showdown between the California rivals in four years, and if that were not enough, two questionable hits over the past 12 months could have both teams even more on edge.
Well, maybe their fans at least.
Players say the last thing on their minds should be payback for either the Dec. 19 knee-to-knee hit by Kings captain Dustin Brown that caused Sharks rookie Tomas Hertl to miss 45 games, or the Game 1 jolt a year ago that knocked Los Angeles forward Jarret Stoll out of the series and earned Sharks forward Raffi Torres a six-game suspension.
"This isn't the time of year to do something stupid," said Sharks forward Tommy Wingels, who did try to get Brown to drop the gloves twice Jan. 27, in the first meeting after the hit on Hertl. "Yeah, we remember what happened. We're not happy about it, but the goal right now is to win the Stanley Cup playoffs."
Sharks defenseman Brad Stuart added that nobody should be focused on getting even for any perceived wrong from the past. "Let's win the series," he said. "Is there any better way to take care of it than that? Probably not."
All three California teams have developed strong rivalries over the two decades-plus since the Kings were the only team in the state. For the Sharks and Kings, it started as a matter of geography -- the "Beat L.A." chants in San Jose a direct steal from those heard elsewhere in the Bay Area whenever Los Angeles' pro teams headed north.
As division rivals, the intensity grew on the ice as well.
"I wouldn't say that the two teams like each other, that's for darn sure," said Sharks associate coach Larry Robinson, who experienced the rivalry from the Kings' perspective as their head coach from 1995 to 1999. "At the same time, I think both teams respect a little bit of each other. We're a lot alike in many ways as well."
Both teams have been among the better ones in the NHL for the last five years, leading to playoff meetings in 2011, a series won in six games by the Sharks, and last year, when the Kings advanced after a tight seven-game series where five games were decided by a single goal.
The fact that the Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2012 while the Sharks have yet to make it to the finals is a sticking point.
"There's no doubt everybody wants bragging rights for California. Those other teams have won a cup, so ... " said Robinson, who was part of one of the NHL's most notorious rivalries when he played with the Montreal Canadiens in the 1970s and battled the Boston Bruins.
As far as those more recent incidents, the Sharks felt as if they came away on the short end in both.
No penalty was called on the Torres hit, but he was suspended for the duration of the series. After the ruling, general manager Doug Wilson issued a formal statement challenging the decision handed down by then-NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan, saying the evidence showed it was a clean hockey hit and Torres was being judged on his history. Wilson was fined $100,000 for speaking out.
Brown was given a major penalty for kneeing and a game misconduct after his hit on Hertl late in the first period of what ended up as a 4-1 Kings win. But there was no supplemental discipline, and while Wilson declined to comment, that didn't sit well with the organization.
Torres' status for the series is still questionable as he is dealing with residual pain after knee surgery to repair a torn ACL in September. He played five games this season but none against Los Angeles.
Brown has played twice in San Jose, getting an earful from the SAP Center crowd each time he touched the puck, in addition to the two attempts by Wingels in a 1-0 loss Jan. 27 to hold him accountable for the hit on Hertl. The Los Angeles captain expects the booing to continue.
"Generally, if they hate you, it's because you're doing certain things that are expected of you," he told Southern California reporters.
In the final regular-season meeting April 3, Sharks captain Joe Thornton set a physical tone that led to a franchise record of 52 hits. That night Wingels topped the team with 10 in San Jose's 2-1 victory.
"I wouldn't read too much into the franchise record of hits or looking for us to break that," Wingels said of what comes next. "But we want to play a physical style against them. But often when you have the puck more often you aren't able to finish those hits, so it's a balance of the two."
Los Angeles at Sharks, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, CSNCA, NBCSN
The Sharks and L.A. Kings resume their rivalry Thursday night at SAP Center with Game 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs. To make sure you're in on all the excitement, join our Curtis Pashelka for a live chat that starts at 7 p.m. and continues all the way through the first-round game. Go to: http://bit.ly/1n9yqh0