LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter walked into his postgame press conference with his tie typically loosened as he exhaled out the 48-game season.
"It's over," he said.
After all the scenarios that could have played out Saturday, the Kings earned the fifth seed in the Western Conference with a 3-2 win against the San Jose Sharks. L.A. will open at the St. Louis Blues, while No. 6 San Jose will travel to the Vancouver Canucks.
"I think tonight was a pretty good finish to the regular season, because I thought we played a pretty solid game against a pretty good team, too," Anze Kopitar said. "We're going to have to carry that over – of course there's room for improvement – but we're going to have to carry that work ethic into [the playoffs]."
Both teams knew before the puck dropped that they were playing for the fifth seed after St. Louis defeated the Chicago Blackhawks to secure the fourth and final home-ice advantage seed in the first round. Sutter and his players said they weren't really disappointed at losing home ice.
That's probably because of all the injuries L.A. had this season, which started 3-5-2. The Kings cleaned up at home with a 19-4-1 record, outscoring opponents, 74-44. They finished 24-11-3 over their final 38 games.
"You think about how close it is through the course of the season," Sutter said. "Am I disappointed? No, because, quite honest, I'm very proud of the players."
Justin Williams finished off a nifty play down low with Dustin Penner to give the Kings a 3-1 lead at the 12-minute mark of the third period. It was L.A.'s third shot on goal of the period, but Jonathan Quick withstood late push by the Sharks to prevail over counterpart Antti Niemi. San Jose pulled to 3-2 on James Sheppard's goal with 2:26 to go and pulled Niemi, but couldn't get a scoring chance despite the extra skater.
"We wanted to get the home-ice advantage," Niemi said. "We realized before the game that we can't get that, so maybe it took a little energy off us."
Said coach Todd McLellan: "I felt the intensity of the game wasn't quite where it would have been if one of these two teams could clinch home ice. After that, I thought it was fairly evenly played game. They would have the momentum then we would take it back a little bit. It was fairly clean. I think both teams were trying to get through the finish line and get ready for the playoffs."
McLellan said he scratched Martin Havlat after he found out the St. Louis result and noted that Havlat didn't skate Friday and "everybody has bumps and bruises this time of the year."
L.A. played its last game without suspended captain Dustin Brown and injured Matt Greene but put together a solid territorial game in the second period and came out with a 2-1 lead on goals by Kyle Clifford and Slava Voynov.
Voynov's shot from the right point deflected in off James Sheppard at 5:31. It was Voynov's sixth of the year and second in 27 games. Clifford knocked home his own rebound for his career-high tying seventh goal, 48 seconds into the second. San Jose turned it over in the neutral zone and L.A. gained a mini-rush with Clifford and Kopitar.
The Sharks responded 49 seconds later after Clifford's goal when Logan Couture drove between Voynov and Rob Scuderi and snapped it past Quick from the left side for an unassisted goal, his team-leading 21st.
Los Angeles went 3-0 against St. Louis this season and upset the Blues in the Western Conference Semifinals as the eighth seed. They again must go into their building and face hot goalie Brian Elliott behind a cast of bruising, hulking defenders.
"We know what we're getting," Kopitar said. "They have some big bodies and they play a heavy game. We have some big bodies, and we're pretty familiar. We've played the enough in past seasons."
The Sharks went 3-0 against Vancouver, but they went 8-14-2 on the road. It will be a rematch of the 2011 Western Conference Finals, won by the Canucks in five games.
"They have lots of talent, big hockey city so it's going to be a big challenge for us," Niemi said. "We lost to them two years ago and I think they got lucky, a few lucky goals so hopefully we get a few lucky bounces this time."
The Sharks do have Niemi playing well, and he did his job early. Without Brown, the Kings put their lines in a blender and came out with energy in the form of several scoring chances. But Niemi starred in net with an extended leg pad save on Jordan Nolan and stops on Kopitar and Tyler Toffoli. San Jose didn't put a shot on goal until 8:35 in but outshot L.A., 8-4, the rest of the period.
"He's the reason we're in the postseason," captain Joe Thornton said of Niemi. "When you got a great goaltender like that, you can ride him a long time, I think."
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