The San Jose Sharks currently hold a 2-0 series lead over the LA Kings heading back to the Shark Tank. This is a familiar situation for the northern Californian team though, after they blew a 3-0 series lead against the Kings in the 2014 NHL Play Offs.
However, this is a vastly different side, and could be a side that turn out to be a shock contender for the Stanley Cup.
Starting at the back in goal, the Sharks have two very capable starting netminders. Martin Jones arrived in San Jose from Boston, just days after the Bruins had received him in a trade that involved Milan Lucic going to LA. One of the reasons Jones ended up in Boston was that the Kings did not want him going to a fellow Pacific Division rival.
However the Sharks saw this as an opportunity to find their new starter after Antti Niemi departed for Dallas, and they quickly made the trade that saw a first round pick in 2016 and prospect Sean Kuraly heading the other way.
For most of the season, the Sharks had American goalie Alex Stalock as their backup. However just before the trade deadline closed they made a number of trades with the Toronto Maple Leafs that included Stalock heading to the Canadian side and James Reimer moving in the opposite direction.
This move gives the Sharks very good depth in the goaltending position, with the only problem being after this season Reimer is an unrestricted free agent and is likely to move on to become a starting goalie at another NHL side.
On the back end the Sharks also have a very capable defensive core. This starts with the reliable Marc-Édouard Vlasic. The 2005 draft pick has been with the Sharks organisation for over 10 years and has been one of the best defensive defensemen in the league in the past few years.
Alongside Vlasic is the Defenseman that holds the record for the number of goals in a single season on the back end for the Sharks, and that is Brent Burns.
A candidate for the Norris trophy this year, Burns ended the season with 27 goals and 48 assists in 82 games. He is a key part of the Sharks successful powerplay, providing a great shot from the point.
Other defensemen like Justin Braun, Roman Polak, Brendan Dillion and Paul Martin provide good coverage in front of goalie Jones that has led the Sharks to a return to the NHL Play Offs.
The forwards are led by the top line of Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton and Tomas Hertl. Captain Pavelski can play either on the right wing or centre depending on his linemates and had almost a point a game as he ended the regular season with 38 goals and 40 assists. The Big Pavelski has already shown he has the touch for scoring in the Play Offs with three goals in the opening two games in the series against the Kings.
Joe Thornton, also known as Jumbo, has been key in getting the Sharks back into the Play Off picture. After losing the captaincy last season, Jumbo has got back to his best with stats of a point a game after he posted 19 goals and 63 assists in the 82 game season.
The second line has also provided a lot of scoring with Assistant Captain Logan Couture coming back from a fractured right fibula at the start of the season and ending up with a respectable 36 points in 52 games.
He has worked well alongside summer signing Joel Ward and Joonas Donskoi providing the Sharks with a good second offensive line.
Down on the third line is Sharks Veteran Patrick Marleau. He has shown that he can play at either left wing or centre. Melker Karlsson and Matt Nieto are on either side of Marleau showing that they have a player that could be playing on the top line on the third line providing great depth to their forward unit.
Despite being down deep in the roster, Marleau has come up with 25 goals and 23 assists in the regular season, showing that he still knows how to find the back of the net when it matters.
The fourth line that Coach Peter Debour has put together has long time Shark, Tommy Wingles, former Maple Leaf Nick Spalling and 2012 Sharks draft pick Chris Tierney. This is a fourth line that has moved on from being a line full of fighters, but still has the grittiness of Wingles showing that they are a force to be reckoned with.
With these four lines with depth, alongside the solid defensive unit and strength in goal, I can see the Sharks making a run all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. However being in the very tough Western Conference it will be no pushover, as the first round is showing where they are facing former Stanley Cup Champions in the Los Angeles Kings.
If the Sharks can improve their disappointing home form from the regular season and stay out of the penalty box and get their powerplay going then they have as good a chance as any to make a run late into the post season.