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Sharks clinch Pacific with win over Kings

by Eric Gilmore
SAN JOSE, Calif. – The San Jose Sharks had another celebration Monday night at HP Pavilion.

Four days after clinching their seventh straight playoff berth, the Sharks captured their fourth consecutive Pacific Division crown by crushing the Los Angeles Kings in a 6-1 victory.

"You want to win your division so you get home ice, obviously," Sharks captain Joe Thornton said. "We've got a pretty darn good division, so it's a feather in your cap, but we've still got some work to do. We're fighting to get that second seed. It's a good step for us, though."

The Sharks secured no worse than the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference, and with 103 total points they moved back ahead of Detroit by one point for second place.

What's more, the Sharks prevented the injury-ravaged Kings, their Pacific Division rivals, from clinching a playoff spot. The Kings would have been in with a win, but they remained stuck on 96 points, virtually tied for fourth in the West with Phoenix and just one point ahead of Nashville and three ahead of Anaheim.

"I guess we're trying to make it interesting, but we have a chance to do it on Wednesday," Kings captain Dustin Brown said, looking ahead to a home game against Phoenix. "We say this every game. We just have to look forward whether this is a 2-1 loss or a 6-1 loss. It's still a loss."

The moment the puck dropped, Sharks fans began chanting, "Beat L.A.! Beat L.A.!" and San Jose began doing exactly that in countless ways against a Kings team missing its top two offensive weapons, Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams, who are both injured.

Sharks defensemen Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Dan Boyle each scored a goal. San Jose also had goals from Joe Pavelski, Devin Setoguchi, Kyle Wellwood and Thornton, who added an assist and now has 999 career points. Boyle had a "Gordie Howe hat trick" with a goal, an assist and a fight near the end of the game when tempers on both sides flared.

The Sharks won their fourth straight game and for the eighth time in their past nine games. They scored a combined 20 goals during their four-game streak.

"I think it starts in the 'D' zone," Boyle said of the offensive explosive. "We're five guys back, we're blocking shots, we're taking care of business back there. It got a little loose for a little while, but for the most part, it starts in the 'D' zone and carries over. We've got some lines going, playing well."

The Sharks outshot the Kings 26-24 over the first two periods, and they made their shots count. At just 1:47 of the first period, San Jose took a 1-0 lead on Pavelski's 19th goal of the season, a blast from the slot.

The Sharks took advantage of a Kings' miscue to take the early lead. Los Angeles had the puck in its end after a faceoff, and defenseman Alec Martinez tried to advance it along the right boards, but it went right to San Jose's Torrey Mitchell.

Kings goalie Jonathan Quick blocked Mitchell's initial shot, but it caromed directly to Pavelski, who was wide open some 25 feet in front of the crease. He unloaded a shot that that beat Quick just inside the left post.

The Sharks made it 2-0 with 11:34 still left in the first when Vlasic beat Quick with another hard shot that slipped inside the left post. Wellwood hit Vlasic in the left circle with a cross-ice pass, and Vlasic did the rest, notching his fourth goal of the season.

"They came ready to play," Kings defenseman Matt Greene said of the Sharks. "Obviously we didn't. That was right off the drop of the puck. I don't think that we were playing well in the first period. Again, we were giving them chances to score, and that's what good teams do. We knew going in that they play a really good game every night, and they're going to get their offense off whatever you give them.

"I think every one of their goals, we gave it right to them. They took advantage of every opportunity they got and filled the net on us. It's a good lesson, late in the year, that you're never really as good as you think you are -- especially if you're going to give a good team the opportunity to beat you like we did tonight."

The only bad news Monday for the Sharks came in the first period, when Ryane Clowe suffered a lower-body injury, ending his night.

"He just tweaked something," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "He's getting looked at right now, and we'll see how he is tomorrow."

The Kings cut San Jose's lead to 2-1 at 1:57 of second period when Michal Handzus knocked in a rebound from close range after Greene's long shot.
Any thoughts of a Kings comeback, however, died in a flurry of four Sharks goals in the second. Just 22 seconds after Handzus' goal, Vlasic crushed a shot from the blue line that Wellwood redirected past Quick. Center Andrew Desjardins set up the score by digging out the puck along the left boards and getting it to Vlasic, earning the first assist of his NHL career.

"When you come into this building, you know you have to play good," Kings coach Terry Murray said. "You've gotta show up and compete real hard. We gave up that first goal. We gave up goals I don't like. You gotta show up against a real good hockey club and play well, and we didn't do that."

Boyle made it 4-1 at 5:33 in the second on a rush down the right side, maneuvering around Willie Mitchell then beating Quick inside the right post. At that point, Murray replaced Quick with backup goalie Jonathan Bernier, who gave up a second-period goal to Thornton that made it 5-1 and another to Setoguchi.

After a scoreless third period, the Sharks were officially the division champs and had locked up home-ice advantage for the first round.

"That's the benefit," McLellan said of winning the Pacific, "not the banner or anything else. The benefit is we know we'll be in the two or three spot and as the playoffs roll around we'll get the opportunity to start in front of our great fans. We worked hard to earn that right. Now we have to take advantage of it when it does arrive."

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