The San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings are in the thick of a four-team race for the Pacific Division title despite entering Tuesday night’s matchup at Staples Center on the outside of the postseason picture.
San Jose (36-26-10) and Los Angeles (35-25-12) each will look to keep pace in the division and Western Conference, and the surging Kings hope to improve their position by earning a fourth consecutive home win in the series.
Dallas and Phoenix, which are tied for the Pacific lead, also will face off Tuesday, with the winner taking sole possession of first place.
The Kings and Sharks trail Colorado and the co-Pacific leaders by one point, while Calgary - 11th in the West - looms one point back.
San Jose missed an opportunity to take the division lead Monday, falling 5-3 to last-place Anaheim.
Ryane Clowe had a goal and two assists and Martin Havlat followed up his two-goal game in Saturday’s win over Detroit with a goal and an assist, but coach Todd McLellan was unhappy with his team’s effort with so much on the line.
“The lack of energy and jump that we had as a team was baffling,” McLellan said. “When we’re supposed to be as desperate as we are apparently, I can’t figure out why we didn’t have that jump.”
The Sharks had gone 3-0-1 in their previous four games.
“It’s disappointing,” said captain Joe Thornton, who had his four-game point streak end. “We could have hopped over a bunch of teams tonight but that’s sports. It’s unfortunate we just didn’t win. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We have to go to L.A. and play hard tomorrow.”
San Jose has won three of the last four meetings, but all the victories came at home. These clubs square off three more times in 2011-12, including a home-and-home set to close the regular season.
Los Angeles, which has managed just five goals in three games against the Sharks, still ranks near the bottom of the league in goals scored, though it has tallied four goals or more seven times during an 8-3-0 stretch.
The Kings have won four straight, beating Nashville 4-2 on Saturday to open a four-game homestand.
“We’re keeping pace. That’s it. It’s too bad we can’t gain any ground,” coach Darryl Sutter said. “You just have to take care of business as much as you can.”
The Kings have done their part lately, scoring three goals in the third period Saturday to break a 1-1 tie entering the final 20 minutes. Jonathan Bernier made 19 saves while giving Jonathan Quick a rest, and light-scoring center Trevor Lewis had two assists.
“We’ve been playing really well. It’s playoff hockey for us already, so we just have to keep it going,” Lewis said. “We have to just keep winning, and that will determine our fate.”
The Kings’ goaltending has been strong to keep the club in the playoff hunt. Quick is 5-1-0 with a 2.64 goals-against average in his last six starts, and his 2.00 overall GAA ranks fourth in the NHL.
Quick, expected back in net Tuesday, is 1-1-1 with a shutout and a 1.63 GAA against the Sharks this season. He’s won his last three home starts against San Jose, boasting a 1.58 GAA and two shootout victories in that span.
Niemi, though, is 7-2-2 with two shutouts and a 1.69 GAA in 11 lifetime starts against the Kings.