SAN JOSE -- The San Jose Sharks had a simple game plan Thursday night against the rival Los Angeles Kings, and captain Joe Thornton followed it to the letter.
"I wanted to hit something tonight," Thornton said. "That's all. That was the game plan."
With Thornton leading the way, San Jose muscled up and beat the rugged Kings 2-1 Thursday night at SAP Center in a preview of a potential first-round matchup in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"Leaders have to lead in those situations," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "I thought that their bigger players, their size, L.A.'s bigger players always play hard, and ours showed up and did it too. When your leaders play that way, everybody has to follow. They really have no choice. It was a job well done by our group."
San Jose (49-20-9) still has a chance to win the Pacific Division and avoid a first-round series with the Kings. The Sharks have 107 points, one fewer than the first-place Anaheim Ducks. The Sharks have four games remaining while the Ducks have six and own the tiebreaker.
"We're starting to ramp up our game a little bit," said Thornton, who had an assist and six hits. "That was just the case tonight. We might see these guys in 12 days or so, so just play hard and see what happens."
The Sharks had lost three of the first four games in the season series with Los Angeles before beating the Kings in their final regular-season meeting. It was a game that had plenty of playoff-like nastiness and energy.
"I don't think we were committed to playing that hard style of game," Nolan said. "They turned it up a notch. We have to respond better. That's the way it's going to be if we play in the playoffs. We have to be ready for that. We could have had a bit more push-back. Their top players played a hard game. We just need it a little bit more."
Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi made 26 saves for his 38th win of the season.
The Kings clinched a playoff spot Wednesday night with a 4-0 victory against the Phoenix Coyotes as Jonathan Quick notched a shutout. Rookie goaltender Martin Jones got the start against San Jose and made 19 saves.
Pavelski tied the game with a power-play goal at 7:15 of the second period. On the faceoff after Kings forward Dustin Brown was called for roughing Andrew Desjardins, Thornton beat Jarret Stoll and got the puck to Brent Burns, who sent a wicked shot from the left circle that deflected off Pavelski in front of the net and past Jones. The goal was initially credited to Burns but later changed to Pavelski, who now has 39 goals.
Couture put the Sharks ahead to stay at 12:13, pouncing on a rebound and beating Jones with a wraparound.
Sharks forward Tommy Wingels, who moved from the third line to the second line Thursday and had a team-high 10 hits, ripped a shot from the right circle that Jones stopped but couldn't cover. Couture swooped in and got the puck to the right of the crease, skated around the net and scored before Jones could recover.
"We expected a tough, hard game in our building," Couture said. "We knew our fans would be into it. That's probably the best we've played in a while, the most physical we've played in a while. They're a good team over there, but I felt tonight we were more physical. We played pretty well."
The game turned rougher and chippier as the second period progressed. The Sharks outhit the Kings 22-14 in the period, which included three penalties on San Jose and two on the Kings.
At one point late in the second, Thornton and Kings defenseman Slava Voynov nearly came to blows before being separated by a linesman. Thornton went to box for cross-checking and Voynov for roughing. Earlier in the period Sharks center James Sheppard took an elbow to the face from Kings defenseman Alec Martinez as he drove Martinez into the boards.
"I liked the fact that we stood our ground and battled hard," McLellan said. "The physical battles, they're known to win a lot of those. We were in them for the most part."
The Kings played most of the game without defenseman Drew Doughty, who left the game midway through the first period with an upper-body injury after delivering a shoulder-on-shoulder hit on San Jose's Tyler Kennedy.
"He didn't feel good enough to come back," said Kings coach Darryl Sutter, who had no update on Doughty's condition after the game.
The Kings later announced that Doughty would travel with the team to Vancouver.
"Anytime you lose a D-man, especially one of his caliber, it's a big hole," Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin said. "I thought we did well trying to replace him. We knew we were going to get a lot more ice time. This is a tough building to come into and play. We stayed calm, and I thought we did a pretty good job here."
The Sharks entered the game with an NHL-best 78 first-period goals, but the Kings scored the only goal in a physical first 20 minutes. Nolan gave the Kings the lead at 3:36 with his first goal since Dec. 17 and his sixth of the season. Martinez fired a shot near the blue line that Stoll redirected from the slot; the puck hit Nolan and went past Niemi.
The Kings outshot the Sharks 10-5 in the first period. San Jose had 17 hits to eight for Los Angeles, but the Kings controlled the puck for much of the period, and the Sharks had trouble getting through the Kings' defensive wall. San Jose's best scoring chance came midway through the period when Marty Havlat took a long pass and had a breakaway, but his shot went high and wide left.
Kings center Anze Kopitar played his 600th NHL game. L.A. defenseman Matt Greene was in the lineup for the first time since March 17 and played his 500th NHL game. Willie Mitchell was a healthy scratch.