Just when it appeared that the Pacific Division couldn't get much crazier, the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings played a game Thursday that further turned the divisional race on its head.
Joe Pavelski scored in the second round of the shootout to lift San Jose to a 6-5 victory in front of a fever-pitch sellout crowd at Staples Center.
San Jose pulled even with L.A. at 94 points, one more than of Phoenix, although the Kings are still first in the division because they have one more non-shootout win – but the Coyotes have a game in hand and can finish ahead of both California teams by winning their last two.
The Sharks and Kings meet in the regular-season finale Saturday at HP Pavilion in a game that can't possibly take as many turns as this one.
San Jose came back to tie it twice in the third period, then took a 5-4 lead on a power-play goal by Martin Havlat at 12:37. Los Angeles forced overtime when Justin Williams scored his second power-play goal of the game with 3:31 in regulation.
The Sharks failed to score during an overtime power play, but Pavelski rocketed a quick wrist shot under the crossbar in the second round of the tiebreaker before Antti Niemi stopped Anze Kopitar for the win.
The teams combined for seven power-play goals, three fights and at least one bizarre play when Ryane Clowe reached over the bench with his stick and touched the puck while L.A.'s Jarret Stoll was carrying it up ice.
"It was a weird one," Stoll said. "Definitely the weirdest of the year, probably. You just hope you're on the winning end of one of those, and obviously we weren't. It's disappointing game just getting one point, but we've won in that building, we've played well in that building and we'll have to do it again."
Said Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle, "That was a crazy game, man. Down 3-1, we battled back. They got another one. We took the lead. It was a pretty entertaining game for the fans and it was a hard-fought win. We showed a lot of character."
The crazy backdrop was that both teams started the day with the possibility that they could either win the division or miss the postseason entirely -- but both had clinched playoff berths before the first intermission because of losses by Dallas and Colorado.
L.A. took a 3-2 lead into the third – practically an ironclad advantage given its 86-0-7 record in the previous 93 games when leading after two periods.
But San Jose came back to tie it at 3-3 and 4-4 on goals by Clowe and Patrick Marleau. Clowe blocked a shot and broke in on Jonathan Quick for a wrist shot past the goaltender's glove. Marleau scored a power-play goal 61 seconds after Williams scored on the power play for L.A.
Clowe and Joe Thornton each recorded a Gordie Howe hat trick – a goal, assist and a fight. But it was the third-period play by Clowe from the bench that drew everyone's attention.
Clowe at first said, "I don't know what you guys are talking about. I have no idea."
Pressed about it again, he said, "I have no idea what you guys are talking about. I'll have to see the video or something. Someone show me the video."
Stoll banged his stick on the ice in frustration. He was diplomatic afterward.
"I have no idea what to say on that," Stoll said. "It's something that I don't think any of us can see much of. You don't see that play happen a lot. I'm sure Clowe will say afterwards that he didn't know what he was thinking, either. It's just one of those plays. You hope they see it, and they didn't.
"What can you do? Move on. We've gotten some calls this year that maybe we shouldn't have gotten, and maybe it evens it up."
The Sharks' comeback win actually boiled down to San Jose's third-ranked power play going 3-for-6 against L.A.'s No. 3 penalty-killing unit.
"We were fortunate that our power play was really good tonight," Clowe said. "That sort of game was not really expected but we went at each other hard … It was a playoff game. Playoff atmosphere, emotion. Physical.
"There's a lot on the line, obviously with the division, but one of the things was our character tonight and how we battled through it."
The Kings went 4-for-7 on the power play and got just one point out of it. Coach Darryl Sutter was more concerned with his PK unit.
L.A. gave up five or more goals for just the second time this season. The Kings were beaten 8-2 in Detroit on Dec. 17.
"The other team has probably the top two or three power plays in the League," Sutter said. "We spent a lot of time in the penalty box. If you add up all the minutes and if they didn't score on three of them, you're probably killing about 15-16 minutes. It's almost impossible to beat teams like that."
San Jose barely kept itself in the game at the end of the first and second periods.
The Sharks pulled to 3-2 by capitalizing on a needless interference penalty by Quick, who pushed Dominic Moore into the net. On the ensuing power play Thornton tipped Boyle's shot with 28 seconds remaining in the second period.
The Sharks remarkably came out of the first period tied 1-1, although they were thoroughly outplayed and down two forwards at one point. Jason Demers fetched the puck in the corner to Daniel Winnik and then went to the net to chip in Winnik's rebound at 16:27 on San Jose's fifth shot on goal.
L.A. seemed poised to take command when Dustin Brown made the building erupt with a wrist shot from the inside edge of the right circle that beat Niemi for a 3-1 lead at 13:19.
Knowing it had clinched a playoff berth before the puck dropped, L.A. came out with serious purpose and outshot San Jose 18-3 through the opening 15 minutes. The high-stakes tone was set early with fights between Thornton and Drew Doughty and then Clowe and Matt Greene.