SANTA CLARA -– It was the biggest game of the season, and it had nothing to do with the more than 70,000 fans in attendance at Levi’s Stadium.
Marian Gaborik’s slap shot broke a 1-1 tie four minutes into the third period, and the Los Angeles Kings spoiled the Sharks’ outdoor party with a 2-1 win under the Northern California stars.
The deciding goal came on a misplay by Brent Burns in the neutral zone, as the defenseman jumped up to try and direct the puck back towards the Sharks’ offensive zone. Instead, Gaborik pounced, and moved ahead with the puck before unleashing a shot that beat Antti Niemi to the far side at 4:04.
The Sharks’ best chance to tie came on a power play midway through the third when Dustin Brown tripped Joe Thornton, but they could only manage one long range shot by Matt Irwin.
The surging Kings won their seventh straight game, moving into a tie with the Sharks for the second and final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference, although Los Angeles has three games in hand.
The Sharks officially lost their sixth straight home game (0-4-2), and are 3-6-2 in their last 11.
The ice was tilted in Los Angeles’ favor in the early minutes, and they took the lead. Dwight King’s floater towards the net was tipped by Kyle Clifford, and the puck found room past Niemi at 2:46.
Despite not getting any sustained pressure until late in the frame, the Sharks tied it at 18:56. It came on an offensive zone faceoff win by Tommy Wingels to Burns, after Joe Pavelski was kicked out of the circle. Burns skated up the wall from the point, lifting a wrist shot got through Jonathan Quick on a puck that should have been stopped by the star goalie.
The Sharks were the better team in the second period, outshooting the Kings 15-6, but couldn’t break the deadlock. Logan Couture had the best scoring chances, but his look at an open net on the power play was blocked by Matt Greene with 11:43 to go, and in the final minute Couture’s wrist shot rang off the cross bar.
The Sharks became the 19th NHL team to participate in an outdoor NHL game. The temperature at puck drop was 57 degrees, and the official attendance was 70,205.
Road teams are now 11-3-1 in NHL outdoor games, including wins in six of the last eight.
Niether team scored on the power play, as the Kings were 0-for-3 and Sharks finished 0-for-2.
The Sharks had allowed one power play goal against in six of their previous seven games.
The last Sharks player not on the top power-play unit to score a goal with a man advantage was Melker Karlsson on Jan. 10.
Niemi allowed two goals on 28 shots to take the loss. He’s 14-8-3 in his career vs. Los Angeles.
Quick, starting in a career-high 14th straight game, earned the win with 31 saves.
The Sharks made just one lineup change, inserting John Scott for rookie Chris Tierney. Mirco Mueller and Barclay Goodrow also sat out for San Jose.
Scott Hannan (2011 Winter Classic) and Tyler Kennedy (2008 and 2011 Winter Classics) were the only Sharks players to have participated in an outdoor game before Saturday.
Jeff Carter increased his point streak to seven games (4g, 6a) with an assist on Gaborik’s marker.
After playing 13 games in 24 games after the All-Star break, the Sharks will take a rare two-day break before they resume practice on Tuesday. They host the Detroit Red Wings for the first of two meetings on Thursday, and play seven of their next eight at SAP Center.