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Sharks topple Kings to tighten Pacific race

With a chance to affirm themselves as genuine Western Conference contenders, the San Jose Sharks chucked aside the omens of an ill-fated postseason run and clinched their elusive playoff berth in the process.

A pair of third-period goals from “Jumbo” Joe Thornton and Melker Karlsson broke open Monday’s 5-2 win over the division-leading Los Angeles Kings, with Justin Braun’s empty-netter sweetening the final score. With the win, the Sharks took a 3-2 advantage in the season series against the Kings and shed a three-game home losing streak.

Thornton said:

“It was a good game of hockey by both teams. We’ve been playing some good hockey, we just haven’t clinched. We finally got that out of the way. Now it’s just keep playing hard and stay healthy.”

As is becoming typical of Sharks-Kings matchups, Monday’s thriller had the temperament of a wildfire. A Kings’ lead looked imminent in the opening minutes, and Vincent Lecavalier cashed in on a power-play opportunity midway through the first to confirm the game’s lopsided trajectory.

After being outshot, out-defended and harassed on both ends of the ice for most of the first, the Sharks gained their footing once their rivals finally scored. Offensive flurries became more frequent, and Justin Braun buried a Karlsson feed to even the score at 1-1.

Braun said:

“Melker just tapped it to me, and I kinda just shot it back. Thankfully it went in. It was a pretty good feeling. It was a good atmosphere and the guys played hard, and that’s what you want in a game like that.”

A competitive second period produced another goal apiece for the two teams. Brent Burns‘ signature outside slapshot apparently knuckled its way off of Joe Pavelski before slipping past King’s goalie Jonathan Quick, and Lecavalier tacked on another to negate the Sharks’ lead.

Pavelski said:

“We’re trying to get that changed. I don’t think I tipped that one, but that’s what they’re saying so, whatever.”

By the start of the third period, the “Beat LA” chants were deafening, and the Sharks responded as if the perceived “home curse” had never existed.

Thornton’s go-ahead score came just before the five-minute mark – the result of a juicy rebound from Quick in the midst of what had been a fantastic performance for the Los Angeles goalie.

The Sharks begin a two-game series against the Canucks on Tuesday, before finishing off the season with a stretch of games against relatively mild opponents in Nashville, Minnesota, Winnipeg and Arizona.

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