SAN JOSE — — Loudly, and predictably, the chants of "Beat L.A., Beat L.A.," reverberated through HP Pavilion at the start of the Kings-Sharks game Saturday night.
What? No chants of "Seventh seed, seventh seed?"
That was the prevailing issue at stake, one of the few remaining elements of suspense in what was the final game of the NHL's regular season.
The Kings were within a period of securing the seventh spot in the Western Conference, but squandered a two-goal lead in the third period, losing, 3-2, to the Sharks in overtime. Dan Boyle scored on a give-and-go with Martin Havlat, coming down the left wing with speed and flicking it past Kings goalie Jonathan Quick for his second goal of the game.
Their loss dropped the Kings to eighth in the Western Conference, meaning a first-round playoff series with the Vancouver Canucks, who had the most points in the NHL. This will be a rematch of their first-round meeting two years ago, which Vancouver won in six games.
The Sharks, who earned a playoff matchup against St. Louis, satisfied their home crowd with a stirring comeback, rallying from a two-goal deficit in the third period on goals by Boyle and Patrick Marleau. Boyle scored 35 seconds into the third period and Marleau's goal, his 30th, was the result of a deflection off the stick of Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell at 8:14.
Marleau's goal came 13 seconds into a power play after Kings defenseman Matt Greene went off for boarding Sharks forward Tommy Wingels. The two Kings' goals, both on the power play, came on a deflection by Justin Williams (22nd of season) in the first period and Mike Richards (18th of the season), with 56 seconds left in the second.
It was the second time in three days the Kings and Sharks could not decide the issue in regulation. On Thursday, the Sharks rallied and beat the Kings, 6-5, in a shootout in a fight-marred contest, which was highlighted by one of the strangest plays of the season.
The Sharks' Ryane Clowe reached over the bench with his stick to illegally play the puck against the Kings late in regulation, and escaped notice from the referees Thursday night at Staples Center.
The Clowe controversy almost overshadowed the playoff jockeying between the Sharks and Kings. But the teams were back in pre-playoff mode by Saturday morning.
Kings Coach Darryl Sutter got down to work on his playoff preparation, finding a way to press a few motivational buttons on the final day of the regular season.
Sutter said he was thinking more about next week's events than the rematch against the Sharks. And then he proved it.
But the playoff motivational effort didn't involve some low-scoring forward. It was about his No. 1 goalie Quick, a potential Vezina Trophy winner. Quick, who has a league-leading 10 shutouts, has received season-long accolades and recent support in some quarters for the Vezina, which is voted on by NHL general managers.
It started with discussion at Saturday's morning skate about Quick's rare minor penalty in Thursday's game against the Sharks. He was called for interference late in the second period with the Kings leading 3-1, causing a massive momentum swing when the Sharks scored on the ensuing power play.
"He didn't play very well, so he was probably frustrated with his own performance," Sutter said after the Kings' optional morning skate.
Then Sutter started talking about Sharks' Antti Niemi, who won a Stanley Cup in 2010 with the Blackhawks.
"It's a big challenge," Sutter said. "When you play San Jose, San Jose has a goaltender [Niemi] that's won a Stanley Cup and quietly goes about his business and doesn't get much credit, just criticism. And we have one [Quick] that gets a lot of credit."