SAN JOSE -- Should the Sharks meet the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the playoffs, San Jose probably won't complain if Thursday night's game turns out to be a preview of what to expect.

Not after a 2-1 victory over the Kings in a tightly played, hard-hitting contest that closely resembled the physical brand of hockey the two teams have been playing against each other for the past few years.

And it was Sharks captain Joe Thornton who set the tone with a career-high six of his team's franchise-record 52 hits.

"Yeah, 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."

San Jose's scoring came on goals by Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture while goalie Antti Niemi stopped 26 of the 27 shots he faced for his 38th win of the season, second best in the NHL. The only puck to get past him was a double-deflection shot last tipped by Jordan Nolan.

The win moved San Jose back within a point of the Anaheim Ducks, who have played two fewer games. The Kings are a lock to finish third in the Pacific Division, making them the Sharks' first-round opponent if the Ducks hold onto the top spot. The Sharks aren't ready to concede that just yet.

Players acknowledged the game did have a playoff feel to it, and since the Sharks and Kings have met twice over the past three postseasons, the feeling was a familiar one.


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Especially with Thornton in a sour mood.

"He comes ready to play, especially in these games," said Pavelski, who ended up getting credited for San Jose's first goal originally awarded to Brent Burns. "It's great to see. Everyone fed off of it, the crowd was into it. It was a fun game, it felt like the playoffs."

The Sharks were focused on a strong start, but it didn't turn out that way.

Los Angeles got the lone goal of the first period when Nolan deflected a shot from the blue line by defenseman Alec Martinez at 3:36. But the Sharks were more amped up in the second period and it showed on the scoreboard.

Four seconds after Los Angeles captain Dustin Brown -- a constant target of boos from fans mindful of his knee-on-knee hit that injured rookie Tomas Hertl -- took a roughing penalty at 7:11, the Sharks scored. Burns launched a shot from the left point and it deflected off Pavelski, who was screening Kings goalie Martin Jones.

San Jose closed the scoring at 13:13 when Tommy Wingels threw the puck toward the net from the right side boards and Patrick Marleau steered it behind the net to Couture, whose backhand wraparound made it 2-1.

The San Jose Sharks’ Martin Havlat (9) fires the puck at the net  against Los Angeles Kings in the first period at SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., on
The San Jose Sharks' Martin Havlat (9) fires the puck at the net against Los Angeles Kings in the first period at SAP Center in San Jose, Calif., on Thursday, April 3, 2014. (Josie Lepe/Bay Area News Group)

That may have ended the scoring, but the physical play continued. Less than a minute after Couture scored, Thornton was ready to drop the gloves with Kings defenseman Slava Voynov, but the linesmen intervened and only minor penalties were handed out.

Not long after that, James Sheppard was on the receiving end of an elbow from Martinez and then drilled the Kings defenseman into the board on the same shift. No penalties were called on either play.

Coach Todd McLellan praised the example Thornton set.

"Leaders have to lead in those situations," McLellan said. "L.A.'s bigger players always play hard and ours showed up and did it, too. When your leaders play that way everybody has to follow. They really have no choice. It was a job well done by our group."

  • Kings defenseman Drew Doughty left the game in the first period after delivering a hit on Tyler Kennedy. He appeared to hurt his shoulder, but the Kings simply described it as an upper body injury.

    SATURDAY'S GAME

    Nashville (33-32-11) at Sharks (49-20-9), 7:30 p.m. CSNCA

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    BATTLE FOR FIRST

    The race for first in the Western Conference's Pacific Division:

    Team GP W L OT Pts
    Ducks 76 50 18 8 108
    Sharks 78 49 20 9 107