It came down to the final moments of a game 2,000 miles away, but the Kings learned their playoff fate Sunday morning: it’s a first-round series against the San Jose Sharks.
In only the third all-California playoff series in NHL history, the Kings and Sharks will meet in a best-of-seven first-round series starting either Wednesday or Thursday, when the Sharks, who finished No. 2 in the Western Conference, host the No. 7 Kings.
San Jose clinched the No. 2 spot with its victory over Phoenix on Saturday night, and the Kings remained No. 7 when Detroit beat Chicago in regulation on Sunday morning. The Kings might also regain the services of injured winger Justin Williams
In the six-game regular-season series, the Kings and Sharks each won three games, but two of the Kings’ wins came in shootouts. The Kings were 2-1 against the Sharks at STAPLES Center and 1-2 against them in San Jose.
"It's going to be a great series, with the San Jose Sharks having one of the top lines in the game, with (Joe) Thornton," Murray said. "My initial thought on it is that we've had some good games this year. We split the series, the six games. We've both won in each other's building. There's been a pretty balanced look, when you take a look at the goals for by both teams and the way the games unfolded. There were a couple of games that were pushed to the extreme, with kind of a blowout on both sides. It's going to be interesting.
"It's going to be a very competitive first round here, and it's going to be fun for the fans, there's no question about that. Northern California and Southern California."
This will be the first playoff meeting between the Kings and Sharks. The Kings played the first all-California playoff series in 1969, when they beat the Oakland Seals 4-3 in a first-round series. The Anaheim Ducks beat the Sharks in the first round in 2009.
"It's going to be a great series, but certainly the game of hockey in California will benefit from it,’’ Murray said. "There's no question. Any time you have NHL teams playing like that, there's always going to be a generation watching closely, young players who are going to follow through with their dream of wanting to become one of those guys on the ice some day. It will have an effect on the game in this state, for sure, and only a very positive one."
Murray said Williams, who missed the final nine regular-season games because of a dislocated shoulder, got the "green light" from doctors to practice on Monday. It remains possible that Williams could return for Game 1 of the first-round series.
"It's a matter of getting on the ice and starting to participate in the practice and feeling good about your situation," Murray said, "And also knowing the consequences (of playing) that we talked about yesterday morning.
There's a possibility of another injury, but that's true even if you don't have an injury. It's always there, but you have to try to block that part of it out and play your game. He's been skating hard in the last week, in the extra, so conditioning-wise, I think he should be pretty good. Now he's got the green light from the doctor to start participating.
"It always will come down to the player coming to the coach and saying, 'I'm ready to go.' Always. When you're coming off an injury, it's rehab time, it's time on the ice, conditioning-wise, and then there comes a time when the player and the coach talk and he tells me how he's doing. That's the ultimate meeting, and eventually you make your decision, as a coach, whether he goes into the lineup or not."
The Sharks won the Pacific Division with 105 points, while the Kings finished in fourth place with 98 points. For additional subtext, Kings general manager Dean Lombardi served as GM of the Sharks from 1996-2003. Lombardi was hired by the Kings in 2006.