LOS ANGELES Its been a long, not particularly productive trudge through the last two months of the season.
A win tonight in Los Angeles, though, would allow the San Jose Sharks (41-29-10, 92 points) to put that stretch in the rear view mirror. The team can secure a playoff spot with a victory over the Kings (40-27-13, 93 points) when they square off at Staples Center in the first of a home-and-home that concludes on Saturday night at HP Pavilion.
Dan Boyle said: This one allows us to get in the playoffs. We win this one tonight, and if my math is correct, were in. You play 80 games all year and it comes down to one, which is all were concentrating on.
The Sharks are in eighth place in the Western Conference, three points ahead of ninth place Dallas. The Stars visit the Nashville Predators tonight at 5:00 p.m. PST, and should they lose in regulation, they'll be eliminated. The Sharks would only need one point to mathematically eliminate Colorado (88 points), too, and secure their own spot. Colorado hosts Columbus at 6:00 p.m. PST.
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Todd McLellan would rather his club just concentrate on what it has to do, though, than scoreboard watch.
As a group, we have to assume that we need to take care of our own business, and that the two teams trailing us are going to win both of their games and Phoenix (in seventh place with 93 points) is going to sweep.
What it comes down to is our effort and our competition level, and our results against the Kings. We have an opportunity in front of us we can control as far as effort and everything else, and we need to take advantage of it.
Lineup unchanged: The Sharks are expected to ice the same lineup as they did in their two straight wins over the Dallas Stars. That means Douglas Murray will sit for the fourth straight game, despite appearing to be recovered from an undisclosed lower body injury.
Down the stretch, weve discussed finding a lineup thats winning and playing well, weve always kept it that way regardless of whos been in or out, McLellan said. Murray is a valuable person and very important to our team, not only today but moving forward. If hes healthy we would consider using him, but again, Ill stress that we like what weve seen from the six guys playing.
The Kings are still without winger Jeff Carter, who has an ankle injury and could miss Saturdays game, as well.
In the crease: Antti Niemi will make his 20th straight start, opposing Vezina Trophy candidate Jonathan Quick.
Niemi made his biggest save of the season in Tuesday nights 5-2 win over Dallas, stopping Jamie Benn on a breakaway in the third period with the Sharks nursing a 3-2 lead.
When Nemo plays like that, it sure covers a lot of different areas and different faults that guys have, Joe Thornton said.
In four games against the Sharks this season, Quick is 2-1-1 with a 1.72 goals-against average and .945 save percentage.
Regarding the Kings: Los Angeles season has been every bit a challenge as San Joses has. The Kings fired coach Terry Murray in December and replaced him with Darryl Sutter, and will also be trying to book their ticket to the postseason tonight.
The quotes coming from their players are predictably similar to what the Sharks are saying.
Weve got to take care of our business. Were going for that third seed, and thats our goal right now, leading scorer Anze Kopitar said on Wednesday. In order to get there we probably have to win two more, or one if we win tonight. Thats what were focusing on, and thats what were going after.
The Kings need just one point over these next two games to clinch a playoff spot.
Sutter said: I dont look at it as one point. I look at it as, its tough to win in this league. You better be prepared to leave it out there to try and win. What really has changed for us? Nothing. Either you finish in the top eight, or you dont.
LA struggles: The Sharks have lost both games here at Staples Center this year by a combined score of 7-2. That includes a 5-2 defeat less than three weeks ago, in which the Sharks were playing their second game in as many nights.
Whats been the problem?
Wed like to get more shots. They dont allow too many shots, said Thornton, whose club had just 22 on March 20. Wed like to get some more shots and more good chances. I dont think we had too many good chances last time we were in here. Theyre a good team, and I expect a good match tonight.
McLellan said: Both games in this building we havent played well. The first game Nov. 28, a 2-0 Sharks loss we were lethargic for two periods and then came out and played well in the third, but it was too little, too late. The last time in here, a shorthanded goal got us behind the eight ball. We did play back-to-back, and I thought they had more jump and more energy than our group did. We dont have that excuse tonight.
The Kings are 12-4-1 in their last 17 games.
Theyve become a better team the last couple years, and theyve had their share of ups-and-downs this year with the new coach, and trades and stuff, Boyle said. Theyre one win away from where they want to be, as well. Just a hard working team, and very good goaltending.
Odds and ends: Jonathan Quicks 10 shutouts leads the NHL. Simon Gagne and Scott Parse remain out for Los Angeles. Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski are tied for the Sharks team lead in goals with 31. Anze Kopitars 25 goals and 48 assists are both team-highs for the Kings. Joe Thorntons 58 assists tie him for third in the NHL.