LOS ANGELES – The stakes were raised for the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks roughly midway through their game Tuesday night. Three-point games between Phoenix-Dallas and Calgary-Colorado meant that whoever won would take sole possession of eighth place in the Western Conference -- and whoever lost would lose precious ground to everybody.
L.A. made sure it wasn't the one taking a step back with a 5-2 victory in front of a sellout crowd that provided a raucous playoff-like atmosphere at Staples Center. The Kings bumped Phoenix out of eighth in the West because they have a game in hand.
How aware were they of those three-point games?
"I heard about it, actually at the end of the second period," defenseman Willie Mitchell said. "You look, but if we control what we got in front of us, we control our own destiny. So if we control that and win games, we're going to get to where we want to be and that's our main focus. But I won't lie, I'll still take a peek.
'Of course, you beat a team you're competing with – yeah, it's a big win. We're going to enjoy it and park it and get ready for the next one."
Los Angeles continues to look like, dare we say, a dynamic offensive team -- the Kings got contributions all around with a shorthanded goal, a power-play goal and a goal from their defense. Previously struggling Dustin Penner added a goal with 4:06 to go for insurance and Jeff Carter added an empty-net goal as L.A. won its fifth in a row.
Kings coach Darryl Sutter delivered the line of the night when he said of Penner that "He looked like Mark Messier."
"We're definitely showing signs," Kopitar said. "There's obviously always room for improvement but tonight was a huge game. We knew what was at stake pretty good, but we got to keep going."
San Jose showed desperation and resiliency late but lost their second game in as many nights in the latest of an erratic six-week episode. The Sharks are 7-13-4 since Feb.4. and lost on consecutive nights to Anaheim and Los Angeles after beating Nashville and Detroit.
Defenseman Dan Boyle said the difference was L.A.'s effort, particularly in the second period.
"They were all over us and were in our zone the whole time," Boyle said. "They just had better jump than we did, or desperation probably."
San Jose coach Todd McLellan disagreed.
"They were harder on the boards," McLellan said. "They won more board battles. They came up with loose pucks on their forecheck more than they came up with loose pucks on ours. They used their size and they used their board play to their advantage, especially in the second period. That wore us out a little."
Kopitar gave L.A. a 3-1 lead with a wrist shot from the high slot with 16 minutes remaining, but the Kings failed to put the game away when they didn't score during two separate two-man advantages.
San Jose came back with a tic-tac-toe play from Martin Havlat to Logan Couture to Boyle, who scored high from the side to pull the Sharks to 3-2 at 6:56 of the third before Penner beat Antti Niemi from the left side to make it a two-goal game again.
L.A. had issues with San Jose's forecheck in the first half of the second period but they weathered it and came out with a 2-1 lead and a 16-5 shot advantage.
Los Angeles has 13 goals from eight different players over the past three games, and the Kings' new-look offense has gotten San Jose's attention.
"They skate very well," Thornton said. "They're deep up front. With Carter being here now, I think they're deep. They have a bunch of good forwards."
Havlat continued to sizzle since his return from a hamstring injury, and it was an important response for the San Jose.
Just 22 seconds after the Sharks gave up a shorthanded goal, Havlat carried the puck in and shot it above the slot before he put in his rebound at 15:48 for his fourth goal in three games.
Mike Richards has been quiet statistically but he provided a 1-0 lead for L.A. with his third shorthanded goal this season. Willie Mitchell cleared the puck from behind L.A.'s net to spring Richards on a 2-on-1 with Carter. Richards wristed a shot past Niemi at 15:26.
Richards has only three goals since Christmas, and one of those is an empty-net goal. His 26 shorthanded goals since 2005-06 are the most in the NHL.
"He understands when to go and when not to go," Mitchell said. "He understood they had a lot pressure down low, and if we bypass pressure it was going to be a break the other way, so it was a great read by him. He's a guy we count on."