SAN JOSE -- Raffi Torres scored the goal. Then he released.

In one celebratory moment, Torres released the frustration, the disappointment, the pent-up irritation, and who knows what else -- maybe little teal animals inside his brain scraping their fingernails across a chalkboard. He released it all.

Torres slid along the ice on one knee as the noise inside SAP Center built for the Sharks' 4-0 lead en route to their 6-3 victory Thursday in Game 1 against the Los Angeles Kings. First, Torres pulled his right elbow and fist back in a prolonged pose. He glided for several seconds toward the side boards. Then he shot the fist in the air.

"It's been a long year," he said afterward in the locker room. "It's nice to get in there and contribute ... I just wanted to be in there."

He wasn't there last year for almost all of the Kings-Sharks series, won by Los Angeles in seven. Remember? The only ice time Torres experienced was in the first game. Late in the second period, he slammed into the Kings' Jarret Stoll to draw a penalty. The NHL reviewed the hit, which put Stoll out of action for weeks, and suspended Torres for the rest of the series.

The Sharks thought the suspension was unfair. General manager Doug Wilson was fined by the NHL for criticizing the decision. Torres kept his mouth shut. But after the Sharks were eliminated, an underlying question was whether Torres in the lineup for all seven games instead of just one might have changed the result.


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We'll never know. But the Sharks and Kings are so closely matched that the theory is not far-fetched. Torres' game is to collide with skill and create pain or soreness that might lead to an opponent being one step slower and giving up open space for a shot.

"Energy," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said, summing up the essence of Torres' game.

The energy was on hold for most of the winter, as well. Torres wrenched a knee during the preseason and needed surgery, sidelining him until Feb. 27. He came back for a five-game cameo through March 8, then returned to the injured list through the end of the regular season. He was officially back in the lineup only by Thursday morning.

So when he skated onto the rink at SAP Center, all of the stuff from the previous 12 months had to have built up, especially because this was against the Kings, especially because it was another playoff game. Right?

"If I think about all of that, it does nothing for me," Torres said. "I just concentrate on what I have to do. I love playing high-tempo hockey."

San Jose Sharks’  Raffi Torres (13) and Jason Demers (5) celebrates 4-0 goal against Los Angeles Kings’ in the second period of Game 1 of an
San Jose Sharks' Raffi Torres (13) and Jason Demers (5) celebrates 4-0 goal against Los Angeles Kings' in the second period of Game 1 of an NHL hockey first-round playoff series at SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., on Thursday, April16, 2014. (Josie Lepe/Bay Area News Group) ( Josie Lepe )

The rest of the Sharks played along with the same idea. Knowing that the Kings lead the NHL in hits, the Sharks were determined to make a statement out of the gate. The two teams weren't going to decide the series' toughest team over the first 20 minutes of the series -- but they made an attempt. They combined for 55 hits in the first period, 26 of them by the Sharks.

You can find hockey stats geeks who tell you that hits don't really matter in terms of goal production. But somehow, at the end of the first period with Torres and his teammates basically matching L.A. bang for bang, the Sharks held a 3-0 lead. Torres made it 4-0 and the margin eventually built to 5-0 before the Kings found their footing in the third and closed the gap to make things respectable.

"They're a big strong team," Torres said. "Those guys know how to win. We knew they were going to come back."

A good reminder, is what it was. This was just one game in what will surely be a long series. But if you are seeking for reasons that the Sharks might be able to defeat the Kings this time around, there were really only two major personnel differences between this spring's version of the beloved Los Tiburones and last year's version. One is rookie Tomas Hertl. The other is Torres.

Neither man played much of the regular season, so it was a mystery how they would integrate themselves into playoff-speed competition. That might have been answered Thursday. Both men were factors in all three zones and both scored goals.

Torres emerged from Thursday's game -- not surprisingly -- with a bruise on his cheek and a slight grin. But the real issue will be how he physically snaps back for Game 2 on Sunday, and the game after that, and the game after that. Is he confident enough that his knee and his body can handle what's ahead?

"If everything goes the way it did tonight, I think so," Torres said. "I'll see how I feel tomorrow. I'll try to get three hours of sleep tonight and see how it goes."

He was joking about the three hours. Or perhaps not. It can't be easy hitting the mattress a few hours after the final horn, with your bones and flesh still throbbing from all that contact and pain.

But for Raffi Torres, after the past 12 months, it had to feel wonderful.

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