The San Jose Sharks have gone on a red-hot run to secure the best regular season in franchise history, thanks partly to a couple of games against the league-worst Los Angeles Kings.
|Brian Boucher will give Evgeni Nabokov some well-deserved rest tonight. (AP Photo/Mark Avery)
The Sharks, trying to continue their momentum before postseason play, look to win their sixth straight at Los Angeles when they face the Kings in the finale of a home-and-home series Thursday night.
San Jose (49-21-10) closed out its regular-season home schedule with a 5-2 win over Los Angeles (31-42-7) on Tuesday night, giving it a club-record 108 points with two games to play. The Sharks had 107 points last season, when they lost to Detroit in the Western Conference semifinals.
Pacific Division champion San Jose has second place in the West locked up and it's the hottest team in the league with the postseason approaching, going 18-0-2 since its last regulation loss on Feb. 20.
"It's a hard game when you've been playing in games that have a lot of meaning, when the intensity is going to naturally be there," Sharks coach Ron Wilson said. "I had to remind them that there's still some things on the line."
San Jose's recent stretch includes two wins over the Kings, who have a league-worst 69 points. The Sharks have a good opportunity to keep their run going, having won five straight at Los Angeles since a 4-2 loss on Nov. 13, 2006.
San Jose, though, is expected to rest many of its top players, including goaltender Evgeni Nabokov. He made 16 saves for his NHL-leading 46th victory Tuesday and still has a chance to match New Jersey star Martin Brodeur's NHL record of 48 set last season, but Wilson said he will start backup Brian Boucher on Thursday. Nabokov will close out the regular season at Dallas on Sunday.
|Milan Michalek (left) has three goals in his last three games versus the Kings. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)
"I'm going to lie if I'm going to tell you I don't care ... but now, all of our goal is to get ready for the playoffs," said Nabokov, who has started in 75 of the Sharks' 80 games. "Whatever Ronnie thinks is right to do, we're going to do it."
Rookie Erik Ersberg has gotten the majority of the work in net for Los Angeles in recent weeks. He has allowed five goals in each of his last two games, stopping 29 shots versus the Sharks in his first appearance in the rivalry.
"That's one of the best teams in the league, especially with all that talent," he said. "It's not just Joe Thornton. They've got some other guys too that can produce. You learn stuff and you take the good things with you to the next game and the next season."
Ersberg played well in 11 games before his slump, going 5-3-3 with a 1.97 goals-against average. On Tuesday, San Jose's Milan Michalek scored the go-ahead goal in the second period, and Mike Grier, Patrick Marleau, Curtis Brown and Brian Campbell also found the back of the net for the Sharks.
Michalek has three goals in his last three games against Los Angeles.
The Sharks are 4-2-1 against the Kings this season.