SAN JOSE -- It was just minutes after the San Jose Sharks beat the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 in a shootout Tuesday night at HP Pavilion, and Sharks captain Joe Thornton was asked about a potential first-round playoff matchup between these Pacific Division rivals.
"Every game against these guys is electric and fans get into it and all the guys get into it," Thornton said. "Who knows? We’ll see what happens."
Although the Sharks and Kings still have five regular-season games left, they went at each other as if the playoffs had already begun. When the wild and physical game ended, both team had 53 points; the Kings owned fourth place in the Western Conference because they have more non-shootout wins than the Sharks.
Sharks forward Raffi Torres scored the only goal in the shootout, beating Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick in the third round by sliding a backhander through his legs. Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi stopped all three shots he faced, denying Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar and, finally, Mike Richards.
Brent Burns and TJ Galiardi, who skated together on the Sharks' first line, scored San Jose's goals in regulation. Captain Dustin Brown and defenseman Jake Muzzin scored for the KIngs.
"It was crazy," Galiardi said of the game. "Back and forth all night. They have so much talent on their team, and we have a lot on ours, too. It was a seesaw battle, but we pulled that extra point."
They got it thanks to Torres, who said he was stunned when coach Todd McLellan chose him for the shootout.
"It’s been a couple of years since I’ve got a chance to go in the shootout so I was a little nervous," said Torres, who came to the Sharks from the Phoenix Coyotes in a trade deadline deal. "I just trusted my hands and trusted what I’ve been doing in practice. I just went in there nice and slow and got him to bite on the shot and slid it under him."
McLellan said he liked Torres' career numbers in the shootout -- he converted on four of 11 attempts before Tuesday.
"When you look at his past and what he's done, he has pretty good numbers in the shootout. He has quick hands and I just went with a hunch," McLellan said.
Niemi, coming off a 4-0 shutout of the Phoenix Coyotes on Monday night, made 41 saves in his 21st straight start. Quick stopped 33 shots.
"They are so good with their penalty-killing and their goaltending," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said of the Sharks. "Niemi gets to credit, but he has more than 20 wins. Their penalty kill has put them at the top of the league. He reflects their home record."
The Sharks improved to 15-1-5 at home, while the Kings lost their fourth straight road game.
Niemi's biggest save came when he stopped Jeff Carter on a 2-on-1 break with just over two minutes left in overtime.
"At this time of the year, sometimes it's really the team that deserves to win and usually does," Kings forward Justin Williams said. "I don't think we deserved to win tonight. The result of the multitude of chances they had tonight was us not being able to sustain a lot of pressure in their zone. They play a very tight defensive box, and we weren't able to penetrate as often as we wanted to."
The Sharks and Kings entered the third period tied 2-2 after a wild second period in which each team scored a pair of goals.
Dwight King had a great chance to put Los Angeles ahead early in the third after a turnover by Sharks captain Joe Thornton, but Niemi caught his blast from the low slot. Niemi made another great save late in the third on Carter's shot off a breakaway. Quick turned away two Galiardi shots late in the third, one on a rush and another after taking a feed from Thornton.
After a scoreless first period, Burns and Galiardi scored in a span of 42 seconds midway through the second, giving the Sharks a 2-0 lead. But the Kings answered with second-period goals by Muzzin and Brown to pull even before intermission.
Seconds before Burns' goal, Kings forward Dustin Penner had the puck along the boards in the Los Angeles zone, facing his own goal. He never saw Burns coming. In a flash, Burns raced in, stole the puck, moved toward the slot and ripped a shot past Quick for an unassisted goal at 8:48.
Burns has scored eight goals, all of them since McLellan switched him from defense to a first-line wing.
"I consider him a rover. He has the ability to play both," McLellan said. "What he's done for our team is a lot like (Colin) Kaepernick with the 49ers, he said of San Francisco's quarterback." He has the ability to roam around and be somewhat reckless at times, but we feel comfortable putting him back there on the power play. If we need him in-game, he's ready to go back there, but he's a utility guy that's able to play all over."
The Sharks quickly made it 2-0 when Galiardi took a cross-crease pass from Burns and scored from close range at 9:30. The goal was Galiardi's fourth of the season and third in the past eight games. Burns and Thornton earned assists. It was Thornton's 500th assist as a Shark and 785th overall.
Muzzin scored a power-play goal at 13:59, cutting San Jose's lead to 2-1. Niemi had already killed off all 1:15 of a 5-on-3 power play with Galiardi in the penalty box for tripping defenseman Drew Doughty and defenseman Jason Demers for cross-checking Jarret Stoll. But with 32 seconds left on Demers ' penalty, Muzzin blasted a shot from the blue line through traffic, beating Niemi.
With the Kings and Sharks skating 4-on-4, Brown rammed home a shot from point-blank range past Niemi when he couldn't cover a rebound. The goal was Brown's 14th of the season and third against the Sharks.
The Sharks were playing on back-to-back nights, and the Kings hadn't played since Saturday night. After blowing a two-goal lead, San Jose could well have lost the game.
"A lot of teams might fold there, but we came in and regrouped," Galiardi said. "We got a lot of good leaders on our team, guys who have been there before. They just set us back to neutral. We went out and had a great period."
Defenseman Scott Hannan, in his second stint with the Sharks, was in the lineup for the first time since coming to San Jose from Nashville in a trade on April 13. Hannan, who had been sidelined by a neck injury, played his first game as a Shark since May 7, 2007, a second-round playoff loss to the Detroit Red Wings. Hannan took rookie defenseman Matt Irwin's spot in the lineup and skated with Dan Boyle.
In an odd switch, the Sharks wore their road white uniforms at home while the Kings wore their home black uniforms on the road. The reason? According to a Sharks spokesperson, the Kings requested the switch, and the Sharks agreed.