SAN JOSE – The phrase “feels like a playoff game” gets tossed around a bit too much this time of year, but Monday night’s meeting between the Sharks and Kings merited the cliché.
And, now, there’s officially more to come.
In a fast-paced, hard-hitting and emotional affair that had a little bit of everything, San Jose finally clinched its place in the postseason on its fourth try, beating the Kings, 5-2. Joe Thornton scored the tie-breaking, game-winning goal on a power play in the third period, while Justin Braun added a pair of scores and made the key defensive play.
The Sharks ended their three-game regulation losing streak, and although they still face tough odds to make up the five-point deficit that still exists between them and Los Angeles, Monday’s effort was an encouraging one from top to bottom with the postseason so close at hand.
“I think, appropriately, we clinched a playoff spot with a game like that against a team like that,” Pete DeBoer said. “That's kind of been the story all year – we wanted to prove we belonged in that category of team. We feel we do. It was a solid effort, goalie [on] out, and it was nice to win that game."
Logan Couture said: “We played well. Obviously getting into the playoffs was a goal that we set from the start. To beat those guys to get in was nice.”
The play that will likely get the most airtime came at the end of the second period. With the score tied 2-2 and time winding down, Couture was in prime position to give the Sharks a lead headed into the intermission. His shot at an open net, though, was somehow stopped by Jonathan Quick, who got the paddle of his stick on the attempt before it rang off the crossbar.
It was surely one of the NHL’s best saves of the year.
“Just a good save. I thought I had him,” Couture deadpanned.
San Jose didn’t sag after that stop to start the third, though, and Thornton’s goal shortly after a faceoff win on the power play gave them back the power play goal that they had allowed to Vincent Lecavalier in the first period.
Quick made the first two saves, on Brent Burns from the circle and Joe Pavelski in front of the net, before Thornton converted on the third attempt.
“They got one early so we knew we had to step up a little bit,” Thornton said. “It was a big goal, and ended up being the winner.”
Couture said: “With Quick, he’s usually going to make the first one and maybe the second one, so stick with it, and Jumbo was able to get the rebound.”
The pace remained frantic, as the teams continued to wail away at each other in a game that featured 90 combined hits. The Kings nearly re-tied it with about 11:20 to go, when Drew Doughty’s powerful shot snuck behind Martin Jones and settled in the blue paint.
Anze Kopitar spotted it and tried to pounce on it, but Braun got there just in time to tie up his stick and prevent the Kings captain from making it a 3-3 game.
“I just saw it sitting there. Just try and get there before they do,” Braun said. “Bailed Jones out a bit, but he’s bailed us out a lot.”
Jones ended up stopping all eight shots he saw in the third period, while the Sharks added an insurance marker from Melker Karlsson and an empty-net score by Braun.
With less than two weeks before playoff hockey returns to San Jose after a one-year hiatus, the club is confident it can make some noise once it gets there. A solid team win over the Kings only strengthens that conviction.
"We’re as deep as anybody, and as far as I’m concerned, we can play with anybody, too," Thornton said.