SAN JOSE, Calif. – Even Raffi Torres was surprised when Sharks coach Todd McLellan tabbed him for his first shootout chance in more than two years.
Torres delivered on his coach’s hunch, and goalie Antti Niemi did the rest to help San Jose move into a tie for fourth place in the Western Conference with a 3-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday night.
“It’s been a couple of years since I’ve got a chance to go in the shootout so I was a little nervous,” Torres said. “I just trusted my hands and trusted what I’ve been doing in practice. I just went in there nice and slow and got him to bite on the shot and slid it under him.”
Torres faked a shot before sliding the puck between Jonathan Quick’s pads for the lone goal of the shootout that gave the Sharks their second win in two nights after a 4-0 victory in Phoenix on Monday. It was his first shootout attempt since March 2011 and he improved to 5 for 12 in his career in the tiebreaker.
Brent Burns scored one goal and assisted on another by TJ Galiardi on a productive second-period shift for the Sharks. Niemi made 41 saves in the win.
Niemi helped force the shootout when he stopped Jeff Carter with his pad on a 2-on-1 in overtime and then was perfect in the shootout as he looked quite fresh in his 21st consecutive start.
“He’s been a real good workhorse for us,” McLellan said. “There’s been guys in the past who played 80 of 82 games in the league. So it’s not uncommon for goaltenders to play a lot. We’re only halfway through what would normally be a regular season. So he looks like he’s got a lot of gas in the tank and is excited about playing.”
Jake Muzzin and Dustin Brown scored for Los Angeles, which fell into a tie with San Jose in the battle for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Jonathan Quick made 33 saves as the Kings lost their fourth straight road game.
Quick couldn’t stop Torres’ backhand shot in the third round of the shootout. The game ended when Niemi made a pad stop against Mike Richards.
“I don’t think we deserved to win,” Kings forward Justin Williams said. “The result of the multitude of chances they had tonight was us not being able to sustain a lot of pressure in their zone. They play a very tight defensive box and we weren’t able to penetrate as often as we wanted to.”
Both teams had chances early in the third period to break a tie but Niemi robbed Dwight King on a shot from the slot after a turnover by Joe Thornton. Quick turned aside good chances from Tommy Wingels, Torres and Galiardi after Los Angeles killed a penalty later in the period. Niemi stopped Carter on a partial breakaway late in the third to preserve the tie.
“Last night he was great, tonight he was great. Three games ago he was great,” Thornton said. “Every night he gives us a chance to win. He is, I think, the best goalie in the world.”
This was a physical, intense game between two fierce division rivals who could meet again in the first round of the playoffs if the current standings hold.
There was lots of hitting and scrums after whistles in a game that had a playoff-type feel. Both goaltenders were sharp early, turning aside tough chances and allowing few rebounds as neither team scored for the first 28 minutes.
The scoring chances picked up midway through the second period with each team tallying twice to send the game to the third period tied at 2.
Burns got the Sharks started on one energetic shift. It began with him stealing an outlet from Dustin Penner as soon as he came on the ice and then skating in to beat Quick with a wrist shot from the slot to make it 1-0.
Burns was joined for the ensuing faceoff by linemates Thornton and Galiardi, and after a strong forecheck he sent a centring pass from the corner that Galiardi tipped in from in front of the blue paint to make it 2-0.
Niemi looked as though he would make that lead stand up, especially when he robbed Richards with a pair of glove saves in traffic to help kill a two-man advantage for Los Angeles.
But the Kings got on the board on the 5-on-4 power play when Muzzin’s point shot beat Niemi, ending San Jose’s nearly 147-minute scoreless streak, dating to the first period Saturday in Dallas.
Los Angeles tied it late in the period during 4-on-4 play when Brown poked in a loose rebound of Anze Kopitar’s shot past Niemi with 1:19 left.
“Both goalies were pretty outstanding,” Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. “We need to not turn so many pucks over. We assisted on both their goals.”
NOTES: Thornton’s assist on Galiardi’s goal was his 500th with San Jose. … Sharks D Scott Hannan played for the first time since being acquired from Nashville on April 3. Hannan, who had been sidelined by a sore neck, last played for San Jose during the 2007 playoffs. … Los Angeles D Matt Greene (back) is back travelling with the team and practicing but not yet ready to play.