The 2013-14 NHL season ended for the Los Angeles Kings Thursday, April 3. The Pacific Division-rival San Jose Sharks killed any chance of the last four games meaning anything by protecting home ice in a 2-1 regulation win.
Los Angeles actually controlled play for most of the game, but San Jose skated away with a win by nearly sweeping the pictured stars of the game. This had the feel of a Stanley Cup playoff game, and made for a good preview of the probable first-round matchup between the teams.
The Sharks have clinched home-ice advantage for the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. They remain half a game ahead of the Colorado Avalanche, the only non-division winner realistically within reach of taking away that advantage in a potential Western Conference finals.
The Kings are now locked in as the third-place team in the Pacific Division. They know they will open the first round on the road against the second-place team—most likely the Sharks, though slim hopes at a first-place finish were kept alive with the win.
The Anaheim Ducks are 1.5 games ahead with the tie-breaker and an easier schedule. They won the Pacific Division last season, but lost in the first round against the then-Western Conference Detroit Red Wings.
The Dallas Stars are two points away from not being able to catch Los Angeles, and the Minnesota Wild are two more away. Even if either extremely unlikely result occurred, the only way those teams catching up would matter is if either joined the last full-season Stanley Cup champion in beating two higher seeds to reach the Western Conference finals.
Thus, the Kings have nothing left to focus on until the playoffs but to stay healthy. Drew Doughty left the game in the first period after delivering a shoulder-to-shoulder hit on Tyler Kennedy, and they missed him.
Before his exit, Jarret Stoll's shot in the first four minutes was deflected on net by Jordan Nolan for the first goal of the game. The Sharks simply could not generate enough shots to counter, getting just seven on net in the first 27-plus minutes.
That was when Joe Thornton won San Jose's first faceoff on a power play (the first man-advantage chance was less than one minute long and began during live action) back to Brent Burns, who fed Dan Boyle before slapping in the return pass for the game-tying, one-timer score from the top of the left circle. It was later discovered that Joe Pavelski tipped the shot in for his 39th goal of the season.
Almost five minutes later, Tommy Wingels threw a shot on goal and Patrick Marleau's rebound chance came off behind the glove-side post. Logan Couture scooped it up and wrapped it around before Martin Jones could sprawl across and get his stick in the way.
The scoring may have been done with almost 28 minutes to go, but the action was not. The Sharks looked like the bruising team, churning out a 52-32 edge in hits despite winning the puck possession statistics (lost two more faceoffs but avoided two extra giveaways and managed 10 more takeaways). That is because the Kings still dominated the shooting, with an 80-49 edge in attempts but only 27-21 edge in shots on goal.
San Jose had a whopping 27 blocked shots—more than twice what was managed in the last two games combined. However, Los Angeles managed similar ratios to shots allowed and total attempts.
So the Sharks can play the physical game preferred by the Kings that can also block shots. Look forward to a first-round matchup in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs with these Pacific Division rivals alternatively matching their foe's play and countering it with something different.
It was the final meeting of the regular season between them. Los Angeles still won the season series seven points to five in the five games, even though one extra game was played in San Jose.
The game lived up to its hype, being nationally televised by NBC Sports Network. It is the kind of game that prepares not only teams but fans for the Stanley Cup.
When it was over, the Kings fell to 22-13-3 on the road and 15-9-1 against the Pacific Division. The Sharks are 22-6-5 at home and 17-6-3 within the division.
The two teams almost certainly will be back in the same building within two weeks to play their opening game of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. The collision course should have hockey fans salivating at a rematch of the 2013 Western Conference semifinals.