Sharks-Kings Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated April 04, 2012
After 80 games, nothing has been settled in the Pacific Division, with the top three teams separated by one point. Although first place is up for grabs, the Los Angeles Kings control their own fate. They can significantly hurt the San Jose Sharks' chances of securing a fifth straight division title Thursday night in the opener of a season-ending home-and-home series at Staples Center. The Kings (40-27-13) are tied with Phoenix atop the Pacific with 93 points, while the Sharks are a point behind and sit in eighth place in the Western Conference. Los Angeles, one point away from a playoff berth, owns the tiebreaker with the Coyotes and can assure itself of its first division title since 1991 - and the third seed - by taking the final two games from San Jose. "It's crazy how a couple of games can really change things,'' forward Dwight King said after a 2-0 win over Edmonton on Monday, the Kings' ninth victory in 12 contests. "We've got two more games to finish out here, and it should be good.'' The Sharks have a chance to extend their run of division championships if they sweep Los Angeles, but they'll need help from Phoenix. The Coyotes close the season on the road against Central champion St. Louis on Friday and Minnesota the following night. While beating the Kings twice seems like a difficult task, San Jose has already proved capable of sweeping another team with hopes of winning the Pacific. It defeated the Stars at home 3-0 on Saturday and won in Dallas 5-2 on Tuesday. By taking both games, the Sharks, 8-4-1 in their last 13, moved three points ahead of the ninth-place Stars and can secure a playoff berth with one victory or a Dallas regulation loss. "We can't enjoy this for very long," coach Todd McLellan said. "We've got work to do. Good teams keep their highs and lows at a very even keel and we still have work to do. We cannot let our guard down. That'll be the message again sent to the players." The home team has won each of first four matchups in this series, with the Kings prevailing 5-2 in the last meeting March 20. Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards had a goal and two assists apiece for Los Angeles, while Jonathan Quick stopped 20 shots. Quick's play is giving the Kings reason to believe they can hang on to first place. He stopped 19 shots Monday for his NHL-leading 10th shutout and has yielded two or fewer goals in each of his last 10 games, going 8-2-0 with a 1.28 goals-against average and three shutouts. Quick has gone 6-1-0 with a 1.28 GAA in his last seven at Staples Center, and has posted a 1.68 GAA in winning his last four there against the Sharks. San Jose's Antti Niemi has also been on top of his game lately, going 5-2-0 with a 1.56 GAA and a shutout in his last seven. He has taken the loss in each of the Sharks' last four games at Staples, however, recording a 2.70 GAA. He stopped 29 shots Tuesday, while Daniel Winnik, T.J. Galiardi, Logan Couture, Joe Thornton and Ryane Clowe scored. Couture's power-play goal at 17:24 of the second period put San Jose up 3-2 and ended a 10-game goal drought. He is tied with Joe Pavelski for the team lead with 31 goals, and two of Couture's scores have come against Los Angeles. Kopitar, who leads the Kings with 25 goals and 73 points, has two goals and four assists against the Sharks this season.
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