For the San Jose Sharks, it may seem the road trip ended over the weekend with a 3-1-0 record against the Eastern Conference. In reality, it ends against the Pacific Division rival Los Angeles Kings Wednesday, October 30.
After two games in different cities starting 22 hours apart, they flew home and used their own practice facility before flying to Southern California. This will be the teams' first meeting since San Jose's Western Conference semifinals loss to Los Angeles last Memorial Day weekend.
Each of the long-time rivals has had the upper-hand in this series. In the first decade-plus of the franchise, the Sharks faced an established team. The Kings were a Western Conference champion with Wayne Gretzky and a consistent Stanley Cup playoff team after that.
Things started to turn around a decade ago when Doug Wilson took over for Dean Lombardi as general manager. The Sharks immediately won a Pacific Division title, earned their first-ever trip to the Western Conference finals and were two wins away from the Stanley Cup finals.
Over the next seven years, San Jose won four more Pacific Division titles, made the playoffs every season and made two more Western Conference finals appearances. Los Angeles struggled to finally make a return trip to the Stanley Cup playoffs at the end of that stretch and were eliminated by their Northern California rivals in six first-round games when they did get there.
That seemed expected. The Sharks continued to hold the head-to-head edge in the rivalry even to the next spring, winning both games of the home-and-home series that ended both teams' 2011-12 seasons to finish ahead of them in the Pacific Division standings. The general manager and coach they had fired years earlier were now both employed by the Kings.
This shows how quickly a rivalry can turn in the NHL. Los Angeles proceeded to have a Stanley Cup playoff run for the ages and capture the title. San Jose is now the last remaining California team without one, and fell to their rivals in seven games during the 2013 Western Conference semifinals.
A win Wednesday will not erase that, but it may be the first step in making sure the Sharks get their turn. As well as they play at home, their goal of a Stanley Cup would be greatly helped by winning a Pacific Division title. No matter how far ahead they are this early in the standings, they know the Kings are the top challenge to earning that top seed for the first two rounds.
One look at the photo list comparing personnel tells why they are both contenders and why the Kings will win this game, 2-1 in overtime.