SAN JOSE – Just minutes before the puck dropped Saturday night at HP Pavilion, a potential battle for the Pacific Division crown and the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference between the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings turned into a mere skirmish for the seventh seed.
Phoenix captured its first Pacific title in franchise history with a 4-1 victory against Minnesota, taking much of the drama – but not the intensity – out of the NHL's final regular-season game in 2011-12.
The Sharks rallied from a two-goal deficit to beat Los Angeles 3-2 in overtime, earning the seventh seed and a first-round matchup against second-seeded St. Louis. The eighth-seeded Kings will face No. 1 Vancouver, which won the Presidents' Trophy on Saturday night.
Defenseman Dan Boyle scored two goals for the Sharks, including the game-winner at 3:38 of OT. Boyle started a rush deep in San Jose's end, passed to Martin Havlat, got a return feed and beat Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick with a backhander from close range.
The Sharks lost all four games to St. Louis this season, were shut out twice and scored a combined three goals in the four losses. San Jose hasn't been seeded this lower than second since 2007, when they it was fifth.
None of that matters now -- not to a team that had to scramble just to get this far.
"First of all, we're excited about the opportunity to get there," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "It's been a heck of a push on our behalf. We put ourselves in that situation. We'll see if facing all the adversity helped us rather than cruising into the playoffs.
"St. Louis is a hell of a team. They were competing right to the last day for the Presidents' Trophy. It hasn't been very many series we've entered as the underdog, and we certainly will be that. We also understand the pressure they're under. We've been there. We've been the President's Trophy winner and the expectations put on you are very high. We've played free for a little bit. Hopefully we can continue to do that."
Patrick Marleau scored his 30th goal for the Sharks, who overcame a two-goal deficit after two periods.
Justin Williams and Mike Richards scored for the Kings, who fell the San Jose in the first round last year and now must face the top-seeded Canucks -- the team that eliminated them in 2010.
"From where we were about a month and a half ago, I think we're just happy to be in the playoffs," Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi said. "Not to say we're not upset about the last couple games, giving up leads, but there's a second season and we have to get ready."
The Kings built a 2-0 lead through two periods on power-play goals by Williams and Richards. But Boyle scored a 4-on-4 goal on a long blast just 35 seconds into the third period, with Logan Couture flashing in front of Quick, cutting the Kings' lead to 2-1.
Marleau knotted the score at 8:01 with a power-play goal, ripping a shot from the point that hit a defender and knuckled past Quick.
"Coach kind of came in and said you want to hit the postseason the right way," Sharks captain Joe Thornton said. "We didn't play good in the first two periods. We just wanted to go out and see what we had in the third period, and we made it a game and then Boyle put it away in overtime. It's a good way to go into the postseason."
San Jose's Joe Pavelski hit the right post from close range with just under two minutes left in regulation -- the puck deflected off the crossbar and over the net.
Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi stopped 23 of the 25 shots he faced in the first two periods, but backup Thomas Greiss took over to start the third. The change was primarily intended to get Greiss some work before the playoffs after a long layoff, McLellan said. He stopped all six shots he faced and got the win.
The Sharks in the third period and overtime were without forward Ryane Clowe and defenseman Colin White, who were banged up and needed a "maintenance period," according to McLellan.
What changed after the second period for the Sharks, whose streak of Pacific Division titles ended at four?
"Just desperation a little bit," Boyle said. "We skated a little bit more. The first period was the worst, got better in the second. Just realizing the situation and just being a little more desperate and putting the puck in the net."
The Sharks and Kings faced each other just two nights after San Jose beat Los Angeles 6-5 in a shootout at Staples Center. There were three fights, a combined 63 penalty minutes and seven power-play goals in that wild, emotional game. There was also a bizarre poke check by Clowe – from the bench. He stuck his stick out and poked the puck away from Kings forward Jarret Stoll, who was on a rush in front of the Sharks' bench.
On Saturday morning, both teams how important it would be to restore discipline and stay out of the penalty box in their final tune-up for the playoffs. Both teams improved on that front, but they still have more work to do. The Kings went to the box five times, helping the Sharks capture their second straight comeback win.
"They played a few more pucks late against us," Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell said. "They got a few bounces, and that's hockey. Sometimes it goes your way and sometimes it doesn't. Tonight we had some quality chances early on. I think it's not so much what we did late. I think maybe sometimes it's what you do earlier, when you are taking it to a team, controlling the play. When you've got a team down, that's when you need to finish them and score the next goal. If you don't, you put everything into the equation. You put luck sometimes."
The Kings, who outshot the Sharks 15-5 in the first period, took a 1-0 lead on Williams' power-play goal at 11:09 with Havlat in the penalty box for slashing Richards. Williams found an open spot in the slot then redirected a pass from Jarret Stoll past Niemi.
The Sharks had a couple good scoring chances in the first, but Havlat hit a post, and Thornton was a touch wide left from close range.
San Jose got a scare midway through the first when Pavelski was hit in the face with a puck while blocking a shot. Pavelski went to the dressing room to be examined, but he returned to the bench late in the first period and was back on the ice to start the second.
Richards made it 2-0 at 19:04 of the second. Havlat was in the box again, this time for tripping defenseman Matt Greene, and he was lucky to avoid an extra two minutes after slamming the door to the box as he entered.
Mitchell ripped a shot from the blue line that deflected off Williams. Niemi stopped the shot but couldn't control the puck, and Richards buried the rebound.
Sharks forward Torrey Mitchell was out with an undisclosed injury he suffered Thursday in the first period on a hard hit by Kings forward Colin Fraser. Michal Handzus, who had missed five straight games, took Mitchell's spot in the lineup.
Sharks defenseman Douglas Murray returned to the lineup after missing four games with a lower-body injury, replacing Jason Demers.
Kings forward Jeff Carter missed his fifth straight game with a deep ankle bruise.