When the San Jose Sharks play as well as they did Tuesday in manhandling the Kings, 5-1, at Staples Center, it's tempting to believe they'll finally win something other than good tee times in mid-April.
Playing on the second night in a row, the Sharks outperformed the Kings in every crucial area and got better goaltending from Evgeni Nabokov than the Kings got from Jonathan Quick, who gave up five goals on 24 shots.
The Kings previously had competed well against the Sharks and each team claimed a 3-2-1 record in the season series, but San Jose was perfect on special teams Tuesday in winning for the fifth time in six games.
"They're a better team than we are and they beat us," Kings Coach Terry Murray said.
Patrick Marleau scored two power-play goals to stretch his league-leading goal total to 34 and Ryane Clowe scored once at even strength and once on the power play as the Sharks went three for three with a man advantage and five for five on penalty killing. Combined with their 9-1 rout of the Flames on Monday, they outscored their opponents 14-2 in their last two games.
There's no shame in losing to the Sharks. Many teams have. More will too.
But to be beaten so thoroughly should sting. The Kings could have moved from eighth to sixth in the West with a victory. Instead, they're clinging to a one-point lead over Detroit, with the Stars and Ducks four points back.
Asked if the Kings had competed hard enough, veteran defenseman Sean O'Donnell didn't hesitate.
"No," he said. "We didn't come out with the right focus for whatever reason in the first period. . . . Teams are too good now to wait and see what kind of game it is before you decide what kind of game you're going to play that night, especially at home."
The Kings' power-play futility reached 0 for 21 over four games, but the only change Murray could suggest was reinstating winger Teddy Purcell, who did nothing with the ample power-play time he got before being removed from the lineup and has one goal in his last 34 games.
Former King Rob Blake, booed as always, said the Sharks had made adjustments after the Kings hurt them by scoring three power-play goals Jan. 4
"Our special teams were better than we were earlier in the season. Their power play was dominant against us," Blake said. "We made a few minor changes, but we had key goaltending tonight."
Never more clutch than Nabokov's pad save on a short-handed breakaway by Ryan Smyth at 13:32 of the second period. The Sharks made a quick transition up ice and scored 16 seconds later to take a 4-1 lead.
"That kind of took the wind out of them," Blake said.
Whether the Sharks can play like this in April, May and June is uncertain. But the Kings will have little chance of making the playoffs if they don't battle harder than they did Tuesday.
"We have to grab hold of those opportunities," Murray said. "It's a critical learning time in our group. They have to understand that these points are playoff-like."
The Sharks took advantage of the Kings' early tentative play to build a 3-0 lead on their first 10 shots. Marleau started the barrage with a 30-foot shot from the left circle, and Dan Boyle scored nine seconds after he got out of the penalty box to give the Sharks a 2-0- lead with a slap shot from about 40 feet at 9:38.
Clowe made it 3-0 at 16:49 after a terrible pass up the middle by Kings defenseman Peter Harrold.
The Kings cut into that lead 44 seconds into the second period. Smyth won the puck behind the net and tried to come around by the right post with a wraparound, but the puck slid under Nabokov's arm. Wayne Simmonds fended off defenseman Douglas Murray and whacked the puck past Nabokov for his 12th goal.
Smyth was stopped on a short-handed chance at 13:32 and San Jose compounded the Kings' frustration by coming back the other way to score and build a 4-1 lead. Marleau did the damage by whipping a shot past Quick from the hash marks on San Jose's 17th shot.
Clowe scored his second goal at 11:59 of the third for the final margin, but the Kings were done long before that.
"A playoff team is very, very consistent," Kings center Jarret Stoll said, "and right now we're right on that edge. We've got to be more consistent."