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Kings hold off Sharks to win Stadium Series game

by Dan Rosen

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Under the stars or under a roof, it doesn't seem to matter now to the Los Angeles Kings. They'll win wherever you want them to play.

The Kings won their seventh consecutive game and moved into third place in the Pacific Division on Saturday with a 2-1 victory against the San Jose Sharks in front of a sellout crowd of 70,205 on a pristine Northern California night for the 2015 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game at Levi's Stadium.

Two weeks ago, the Kings (28-18-12) were five points out of the second Western Conference wild-card spot for the Stanley Cup Playoffs with four teams to climb. Now they're one point behind the Vancouver Canucks for second place in the division.

Marian Gaborik scored the winning goal early in the third period, Kyle Clifford gave the Kings an early lead in the first and Jonathan Quick made 31 saves. Quick has played every minute of the winning streak and has made 73 saves in his past two games.

"Right now we are kind of where we want to be, where we do have a playoff spot. But we obviously want to make it a little deeper," Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. "We can still possibly get second place in our division probably. That's what we're looking to try and do. We're not going to get ahead of ourselves with this winning streak. Yeah it's nice to be in a playoff spot, but 20-something games left, so lots of work."

Antti Niemi made 27 saves and Brent Burns scored for the Sharks (30-23-8), who dropped out of a playoff position in the Western Conference with their third loss in four games, sixth in their past eight and eighth in their past 11 games (3-6-2).

Los Angeles, the Calgary Flames and San Jose are tied with 68 points, but the Kings have the lead in the standings by virtue of having played fewer games. They have played 58, Calgary has played 59 and San Jose has played 61. The Flames occupy the second wild-card spot.

"There has never ever been any doubt within this room," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "I think a lot of the doubt and a lot of the 'Are we going to make the playoffs' was coming from outside the room. In saying that, where we are now, we still have a lot of work to do. We've put ourselves in a better situation coming down the stretch, but there's still a lot of hockey to be played."

The temperature was 57.4 degrees Fahrenheit when the game started at 7:16 p.m. PT. The tailgates going on outside of the stadium started hours before that under the sun on what was a picture-perfect Northern California day.

Eventually 70,205 people packed inside the home of the NFL's San Francisco 49ers to watch a game and get treated to a show, including a riveting national anthem and concerts from John Fogerty and Melissa Etheridge. The game manifested itself into an event to celebrate hockey in Northern California almost 13 months after the League celebrated hockey in Southern California with the NHL Stadium Series game at Dodger Stadium between the Kings and Anaheim Ducks.

The Ducks won that game 3-0 in front of 54,099 fans. That makes 124,304 fans that have been treated to outdoor NHL hockey in California.

"Do I envision us coming back [to California] at some point for more outdoor games? The answer is absolutely," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "It's been great. We couldn't have asked for a better time, whether it was last year at Dodger Stadium or here at Levi's. The combination of seeing this many NHL hockey fans in California shows you exactly what the game has accomplished -- what these three franchises have accomplished -- in a relatively brief period of time, if you compare their history, say, to the Original Six."

The fact that it was a celebration of the game in this market and, ultimately, in this state made the loss sting even more for Sharks coach Todd McLellan.

"This was our show. These were our fans. This is Sharks territory," McLellan said. "They showed up in droves. I know there were Kings fans here, and there were just plain hockey fans. That's what made tonight so special. The fact we lost was disappointing, but to be part of it, I wouldn't trade it for anything."

Gaborik put the Kings ahead to stay at 4:04 of the third period. After coming off the bench for a line change, Gaborik stripped the bouncing puck from Burns at the red line, skated in alone to the top of the left circle and beat Niemi with an uncontested slap shot to the glove side.

Kings center Jeff Carter was credited with an assist because the puck hit him in the neutral zone and bounced to Burns, who never had control before Gaborik took it away.

"It's definitely special," Gaborik said. "It definitely feels good to get the goal … brought us two points."

Los Angeles was 3-for-3 on the penalty kill, running its consecutive kill streak to nine in a row, and is 15-for-16 during its seven-game winning streak.

"It's won us games," Muzzin said of the penalty kill.

Burns tied the game at 1-1 with his 16th goal of the season at 18:56 of the first period. His wrist shot from the hash marks outside the right circle glanced off Quick and went into the far corner.

It was shortly before that the Sharks turned the momentum in their favor.

They were trailing 1-0 on Clifford's deflection goal at 2:46 of the first period and down 11-5 in shots on goal with less than three minutes remaining before the first intermission. However, the Sharks were credited with five of the last six shots on goal in the first period, all during a span of 2:08. They kept the pressure on for the majority of the second period and outshot the Kings 15-6. The Sharks finished plus-11 in total shot attempts in the second period after being minus-11 in the first.

"We were hopping good," Sharks center Joe Thornton said. "Probably the first five minutes of the game kind of went their way and then we felt like it was tipping our way. We were peppering them pretty good there in the second but just couldn't seem to crack him."

And just as they did for their season two weeks ago, when they started the win streak with a 4-2 win at the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Kings flipped a switch and started to play more aggressive hockey at the start of the third period.

Dwight King was one-on-one with Niemi in the slot 39 seconds into the period, but he whiffed on a shot. Gaborik had back-to-back shots on the same shift less than a minute later, forcing Niemi to cover the puck at 1:23. He scored soon after that.

"We kind of lost momentum late in the first and they brought it on and continued building through the second," Muzzin said. "To come out in the third with that attitude and that start, it was huge for us."


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