SAN JOSE, Calif. – Captain Joe Thornton set the tone by dishing out hits almost every chance he got. The rest of his San Jose teammates followed his lead as the Sharks wanted to send a message to the Los Angeles Kings in case these California rivals meet again with much more on the line in a few weeks.
Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture scored second-period goals and the Sharks clinched home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs by beating the Kings 2-1 on Thursday night in a possible playoff preview.
“I wanted to hit something tonight, that’s all. That was the game plan,” Thornton said. “We’re starting to ramp up our game a little bit. That was just the case tonight. We might see these guys in 12 days or so, so just play hard and see what happens.”
Thornton matched his career-high with six hits and also nearly got into a fight with Slava Voynov in the second period as part of a physical game between two teams that have serious animosity toward each other.
San Jose had a franchise-record 52 hits in all, including 10 by Tommy Wingels, as the Sharks didn’t back down a bit against the powerful Kings.
“I liked fact that we stood our ground and battled hard,” coach Todd McLellan said. “The physical battles, they’re known to win a lot of those. We were in them for the most part.”
Antti Niemi made 26 saves and the Sharks overcame a first-period deficit to move within a point of Anaheim for first place in the Pacific Division. The Ducks still have two games in hand and the inside track on the top spot.
Jordan Nolan scored the lone goal for the Kings, who had their eight-game road losing streak snapped by their first loss away from home since Jan. 28 in Phoenix. Martin Jones made 19 saves as starter Jonathan Quick got rest a night after shutting out the Coyotes to clinch a playoff berth.
The Kings are locked into third place in the division after the loss and will play the Sharks in the first round unless San Jose passes Anaheim in the standings.
“We play similar styles, it’s in-your-face hockey and if we do play them in playoffs it would be fun to watch,” Nolan said.
Of more immediate concern was an upper-body injury that knocked star defenceman Drew Doughty out midway through the first period. Doughty appeared to hurt his left shoulder while checking Tyler Kennedy.
There was no word on the extent of Doughty’s injury.
“Anytime you lose a D-man especially one of his calibre it’s a big hole,” defenceman Jake Muzzin said. “I thought we did well trying to replace him.”
These teams have met in two of the past three postseasons with San Jose winning a first-round series in six games in 2011 and Los Angeles winning a seven-game, second-round series last spring.
The home team has won 16 of the past 17 games in this series, including all seven in last year’s playoffs. The Kings were the only road team to break through in that stretch with a 1-0 win on Jan. 27.
The Sharks took over the play in the second period, scoring twice to take a 2-1 lead. The first goal came just 4 seconds after Kings forward Dustin Brown was sent off for roughing Andrew Desjardins.
Thornton won the ensuing faceoff from Jarret Stoll and the puck got back to the point to Brent Burns, whose shot deflected off Pavelski to tie the game.
San Jose went ahead a few minutes later when Jones couldn’t control a shot by Tommy Wingels and Couture scored his 21st goal on a wraparound.
“That’s probably the best we’ve played in a while, the most physical we’ve played in a while,” Couture said. “They’re a good team over there, but I felt tonight we were more physical. We played pretty well.”
The Kings threatened but couldn’t tie it in the third as Niemi stopped Anze Kopitar in the final minute to seal it.
The Kings got on top early on a double deflection as Alec Martinez’s point shot deflected off Jaret Stoll and then Nolan before it beat Niemi less than 4 minutes into the game.
The Sharks didn’t test Jones much early as most of the opening period was played in San Jose’s end. Their best chance came when Marty Havlat shot wide on a breakaway.
NOTES: Martinez has 15 points in his past 17 games. … Kings F Dwight King was sideline by an undisclosed injury and D Matt Greene played his 500th game as Willie Mitchell got the night off. … The Sharks dressed D Scott Hannan in place of Matt Irwin.