LOS ANGELES -- All right, so we got it wrong about the Sharks.

And by "we," of course, I am talking about "me."

The prediction here for the first Stanley Cup playoff round was that the Los Angeles Kings would defeat the Sharks in six games. But the Sharks now hold a three-games-to-none lead. They are in position to complete a sweep Thursday night here at Staples Center.

It just makes me want to crawl inside an airplane wheel well and flee to Hawaii. Except that someone else thought of that first this week. Probably an L.A. Kings fan.

"Don't give us a passing grade yet," Sharks coach Todd McLellan cautioned Wednesday after a team meeting. "Because we're still taking the test."

Fair point. The Sharks might not clinch the series in Game 4. But it is only a matter of time, during which I will ponder exactly where my pre-series analysis was cross-checked into the end boards.

Here are the four elements on which I didn't count:

1. The Sharks' depth is deeper than expected. The Kings' strength through the regular season was the way they could roll four forward lines onto the ice and gradually wear down opponents. The Sharks had trouble fielding four healthy and productive lines and essentially went with just three lines. This often meant extra minutes for their top-end players, sapping their stamina.


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That same situation was expected to prevail in the playoffs. But surprise! Raffi Torres and Tomas Hertl, two Sharks forwards who missed most of the winter and spring while rehabbing knee injuries, have returned for the postseason with ferocity. They have filled out the lines nicely and produced four goals between them. Meanwhile, McLellan has leveraged his new options and assembled some solid line combinations -- especially a fourth-line group that plays nine or 10 quality minutes per game and keeps the top-enders fresher.

Evidence: Tuesday in the third period, the Sharks outshot the Kings, 23-8, partially because Los Angeles' legs were getting slower while the Sharks' legs were getting stronger. More proof of depth: Matt Nieto's tip-in score on Tuesday night made him the 11th player in teal with a goal in this series.

2. Antti Niemi is outsaving and outperforming Jonathan Quick in the Nets. Niemi had a few rugged nights as the Sharks goalie late in the regular season. And in this series, he still hasn't stolen any games. But that has not been required.

The important thing is, Niemi has been very sharp at critical moments when a big save was needed. And he's been much better than the other guy. After three games, Niemi's save percentage is .912, compared with the .852 of Kings goalie Quick -- who has been nothing at all like the mighty Quick who beat the Sharks in a playoff series a year ago by allowing only 10 goals over seven games.

Did anyone see this coming? If you raised your hand, you are a liar. Quick's goals-against average in this series is 5.78, while Niemi's is 2.58. For those unfamiliar with hockey, it is never a good thing when a man's goals-against average is higher than the number of officials on the ice (4).

3. The Sharks defensemen are plugging and persevering. On paper, this corps of Sharks defensemen may not wow anybody with highlight-video plays. But they have managed the puck skillfully and given up very few turnovers, while contributing just enough offense: Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun have each scored a goal, and Dan Boyle has three assists.

Wednesday, when Sharks forward Patrick Marleau was asked to name the most underrated thing about his team, he answered: "Probably our defense. I don't think they get enough credit for the way they get to pucks and move the pucks out of the zone."

4. The Sharks are winning the big-bang battle. The statistic sheet claims that the hits are about even in the series. But that alone tells you something. In the past, the Sharks weren't always able to counter when an opponent tried to intimidate them with waves of contact. Now, the Sharks can counterpunch and make their own statement.

Brad Stuart, the veteran defenseman, was asked the same question as Marleau about an underrated Sharks element and made that point.

"I think it's our ability to play physical," said Stuart. "That probably hasn't been the first thing people talk about with this team. We've got some big guys, though, and they can play that way. Los Angeles is thought of as a physical team that hits hard. But we're holding our own with them."

This was not the most pointed reply I received to the "underrated" question, though. That one came from Vlasic.

"Underrated from whose perspective?" asked Vlasic. "I don't think we have anything that's underrated. I think we're a complete team. From top to bottom."

Of course, that's not true. No team is 100 percent perfect. But the statement demonstrates where the Sharks' attitudes and confidence are right now. They are headed to the second round very soon. I am in no position to argue.

Read Mark Purdy's blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/purdy. Contact him at mpurdy@mercurynews.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MercPurdy.