"The hottest team wins the Stanley Cup at playoff time, that's the way it is every single year," Couture said. "They showed it. It was a prime example last year. They played unbelievable hockey. They really tore through every other team. It's a pretty incredible thing to do."
San Jose and Los Angeles met in the playoffs for the first time two years ago, and the Sharks advanced in six hard-nosed games on the way to their second straight conference finals — but the Kings were still coached back then by Terry Murray, who was replaced in December 2011 by Darryl Sutter, the longtime Sharks coach. Patrick Marleau, Scott Hannan and Brad Stuart all played for Sutter in San Jose.
"They know all of us, and we know all of them, so there won't be many surprises," Los Angeles' Jarret Stoll said. "They're having a great run. They're playing the right way, and they'll be fired up. Maybe they're buying in a little more, blocking more shots, and that's why they're still playing."
The Sharks' biggest asset might be goalie Antti Niemi. The Stanley Cup winner has elevated his formidable game this season, posting a league-best 24 victories with a career-low 2.16 goals-against average as a finalist for the Vezina Trophy.
But this series features two Cup-winning goalies, and Jonathan Quick has a Conn Smythe Trophy to go with it. Quick was in his usually formidable postseason form against St. Louis, allowing just 10 goals on 177 shots with the same low-to-the-ice, athletic style that led the Kings to a title.
No matter which team survives this matchup, players and coaches are confident local hockey will get another boost from the clubs' combined success.
"I think it's an incredible thing for the state of California," said Sharks coach Todd McLellan, whose sons participated in youth hockey programs in the South Bay.
"(The) extreme growth and passion that this community has, and I'm sure it's the same down South, that's a result of the three teams having some success — playing late, becoming young hockey players' heroes and contributing to the community," McLellan added. "So if we can continue that trend — obviously we will, because one of these two teams is going to go on — I think it's a great thing for the state."
AP Sports Writer Josh Dubow in San Jose contributed to this report.