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Sharks hold off Kings in 4-3 victory

by Eric Gilmore

SAN JOSE -- The San Jose Sharks finally got their first chance to see how they measure up against the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings.

They passed the test.

Logan Couture scored two goals and Antti Niemi made 34 saves as the Sharks held off their Pacific Division rivals for a 4-3 victory at HP Pavilion on Thursday night.

Was it big to beat the defending champs?

"Always," Couture said. "They're a California team as well, and we've had a rivalry with them for the last couple years. It's always big to beat those guys."

Brent Burns, a longtime defenseman playing his second straight game at forward, and rookie defenseman Matt Irwin each scored a goal for San Jose, which built a 4-1 lead and held on in the final minutes to snap a four-game losing streak.

Todd McLellan became the winningest coach in Sharks history with his 207th victory, surpassing Ron Wilson. But he was more concerned with the two points, which gave the Sharks 30 for the season and lifted them from ninth place to seventh in the Western Conference playoff race.

"The important wins haven’t even happened in this organization yet," McLellan said. "There hasn’t been a coach here yet who’s had the opportunity to win the last game he’s coached. It’s just another day for us. We’re scrambling hard. We’re in the trenches. That’s about it for that milestone."

Dustin Brown scored two goals and Dwight King had one for the Kings, who lost back-to-back games for the first time since Feb. 10.

"The last three games we've lost we've been giving up four or five goals," Brown said. "That's not going to be a lot of games we'll be winning. We have to clean up our D zone. Trying to climb out of 4-0, 4-1, 3-1 holes, it's not an easy thing to do. Our goals against have to come down. You look at why we were so successful last year, we weren't scoring a lot of goals but we were winning games 1-0, 2-1. We really have to tighten up our D."

Kings starting goaltender Jonathan Quick allowed three goals on just 12 shots before being pulled for backup Jonathan Bernier at 8:34 of the second period after the Sharks took a 3-0 lead on back-to-back power play goals by Irwin and Couture.

The Sharks scored more than two goals in regulation for just the second time in their past 16 games. They entered the game averaging just 2.16 goals, 28th in the NHL.

The Sharks and Kings will meet again Saturday in Los Angeles at Staples Center. That's when San Jose kicks off a five-game road trip and the Kings begin a five-game homestand.

The Sharks took a 1-0 lead into the second period on Burns' first goal and quickly made it 3-0 with a pair of goals that came during a four-minute power play, the result of a fight stemming from Andrew Desjardins' big hit on Kings forward Colin Fraser behind the L.A. net.

Just seconds after Fraser hit the ice, Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin confronted Desjardins, igniting a long, spirited fight. Both players received fighting majors, but Muzzin got two minutes for being the instigator and two more for instigating while wearing a face shield -- as well as a 10-minute misconduct.

"It looked like a great hit," Burns said. "When he does that for us it's huge. It obviously changed the game. It was clean. It was a great hit. Obviously had a big tilt after. Emotionally that's huge for a team to see a guy doing that. It was a big swing."

Fraser said the hit was clean.

"You are allowed to hit," Fraser said. "It's the NHL, and I kind of put an onus on myself to know he's coming, which obviously I didn't. I'll take a clean hit. If it was the other way around I would have been trying hit him just as hard."

Desjardins said he was just happy to "get the guys going" with his hit.

"You try to obviously just lay a clean hit, shoulder to shoulder," he said. "You’re obviously not trying to take their head off or anything. When you see something like that you want to try to make an impact with a physical play and make it clean."

Clean hit or not, Muzzin sought immediate retribution.

"I'm not a fighter," Muzzin said. "I didn't like seeing my teammate get hit like that, so I had to do something about it. I tried my best. I had to look after a teammate. A teammate is vulnerable like that -- [I] don't want them running around thinking they can do that all the time."

Just 68 seconds into the power play, Irwin ripped a shot from the left circle past Quick for his third goal of the season, putting San Jose ahead 2-0 at 7:07 of the second.

At 8:34, Couture sent the puck to Joe Thornton near the left circle, got it back at the point and unloaded a long shot from the blue line that got past Quick, who was screened by Patrick Marleau. Couture's 11th goal of the season put the Sharks ahead 3-0 and ended Quick's night.

"Good to get the power play going, get a couple there off of (Desjardins') big hit," Couture said.

The Kings sliced the Sharks' lead to 3-1 on Brown's power-play goal at 9:48, with Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams earning the assists.

But just 27 seconds into the third period, Burns intercepted an errant pass deep in Los Angeles' end to start a quick 2-on-1 break. He zipped a pass to Couture, who beat Bernier to his stick side for a 4-1 lead.

That goal turned out to be the winner when the Kings rallied. Brown cut the lead to 4-2 at 12:48 with his 11th goal of the season, sending a shot from the high slot past Niemi. The Kings made it interesting when King put a rebound past Niemi with 3:20 left to make it a one-goal game.

Niemi survived a furious onslaught in the final minute after Los Angeles pulled its goalie, making a pair of key saves.

"There was some anxiousness," McLellan said. "You can tell we probably haven’t won on a consistent basis and we’re re-establishing some confidence. I thought where we failed down the stretch is we didn’t continue to forecheck. We were an effective team on the forecheck. Now we were going to stand off and defend. You can’t do that against a good team like that."

The Kings outshot the Sharks 16-6 in the first period, but San Jose owned a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes thanks to Burns' goal at 11:09. Burns, starting on the top line at right wing with Thornton and Couture, scored a goal in his second straight game and added an assist.

"He's an animal out there," Couture said of Burns. "He's reckless, but in a good way. He really doesn't have to think. He just goes in there and plays his game. He's a big body, strong, skates well, shoots well. I enjoy playing with him."

Burns said he's having fun playing forward, especially on a line with Thornton and Couture.

"The pressure is different when you're playing forward than when you're playing D," Burns said. "Obviously you have three to protect you, behind you. It's just a different game. Playing with those two guys, it's pretty fun to do that. I'm just glad to be back, and to get that opportunity is huge.

"Obviously there's still pressure to perform and play well, but you can try a lot more things as a forward than you can as a D man. You can try to beat a guy one on one. Obviously if you're the last guy back you can't do that. It's just a different game. When you haven't been able to do it in a while, it's fun."

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