SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) - Christian Ehrhoff was on the verge of a benching before he came through with the highest-scoring game of his career.
The San Jose Sharks will need more of that same desperation to ensure a good finish to the regular season, now that the postseason is a certainty. Patrick Marleau scored two goals, Bill Guerin added the go-ahead score and the Sharks clinched a playoff berth with a 3-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday night.
Ehrhoff had a career-best three assists and Evgeni Nabokov made 24 saves for the Sharks, who shook off a sluggish start in their return from a lengthy road trip to win their fourth straight home game - their seventh victory in nine games overall.
The Sharks broke it open when Guerin capitalized on a remarkable centring pass from Ehrhoff early in the third period. The German defenceman skated up to a bouncing puck and took a risky whack at it - and it sailed from the boards into the slot, where Guerin scored.
"It was a little bit of luck that it ended up right on his tape, but that's what you need a little bit," Ehrhoff said.
Coach Ron Wilson wasn't so nonchalant, saying Ehrhoff "hadn't done anything in 30 games" before his big night against the Kings. If defenceman Scott Hannan hadn't been hurt, Wilson would have benched Ehrhoff to get his club's attention.
"We had a really good first period, and then we didn't show L.A. any respect and got sloppy in the second," Wilson said. "You can't look at (the record of) the team you're playing. You have to focus on your job and play your game."
San Jose is tied with Dallas and Minnesota with 98 points in fifth place in the Western Conference standings. The Stars and the Wild also clinched postseason spots Tuesday - and Wilson learned his team could join them when he checked his computer between the first two periods and saw ninth-place Colorado's loss to Vancouver.
Brian Willsie scored and Sean Burke stopped 23 shots for the Kings, who lost to San Jose for the fifth time in seven meetings this season.
The Kings snapped Joe Thornton's 10-game scoring streak, but the Sharks thrived with three points from Marleau and a big goal from Guerin, who has eight goals in eight games after going scoreless in his first six games with the Sharks.
"We know they're dangerous guys," centre Patrick O'Sullivan said. "We did a pretty good job all night of containing them. We did a great job on Thornton, but Marleau gets the points. We were there for two periods, and then they got a couple of good breaks."
The Sharks also got another solid effort from Nabokov. The goalie was pulled from his last start at Carolina, but hasn't lost in regulation since March 2.
The Sharks won twice and lost in overtime during their four-game road trip, keeping pace in the conference race, but not excelling enough to threaten Anaheim atop the Pacific Division. Five of San Jose's final six games are at home, including Sunday's second visit from the Kings in six days.
Marleau scored his 31st goal of the season on a power play midway through the first period, rifling a long rebound over Burke's far shoulder. Los Angeles surged in the second period, and Willsie tied it with a quick power-play goal against the Sharks' slow-to-react penalty killers.
"I thought our guys exceeded their capabilities tonight," Kings coach Marc Crawford said. "We just couldn't match their level late in the game. That's a compliment to their skill level."
San Jose took the lead during 4-on-4 action when Guerin buried Ehrhoff's pass for his 36th goal of the season. Marleau then slipped behind the defence for a breakaway with 10 minutes left, capping the 23rd multigoal game of the San Jose captain's career.
The Kings found a ray of hope in another gloomy season earlier Tuesday when they signed touted college defenceman Jack Johnson, the third overall pick in the 2005 draft. Johnson, acquired from Carolina in a trade last September, is expected to play for the Kings at home Thursday night against Vancouver.
Notes: Kings D Lubomir Visnovsky missed his third straight game with an ankle injury, and Derek Armstrong missed his ninth game with a knee injury. ... Before the game, the Sharks held a brief ceremony honouring Wilson, who coached his 1,000th NHL game during the road trip. The team presented Wilson with several gifts, including the framed original scoresheets from his first and 1,000th games.