SAN JOSE — The Pacific Division lead might change hands dozens of times before the season ends, but knowing that the winner of Wednesday's game between the Kings and the San Jose Sharks would take over first place added a dash of tension when the teams met at SAP Center.
Finishing atop the tough division "is what we wanted to do, set out at training camp to do," Kings center Jarret Stoll said. If that goal seemed unlikely when goaltender Jonathan Quick (groin strain) joined stalwart defenseman Matt Greene (upper-body injury) and sniper Jeff Carter (foot) on the sidelines, the Kings weren't fazed.
Focusing on what they had instead of whom they lacked, the Kings took the game to overtime but lost, 3-2, in an eight-round shootout. They got one point but the Sharks earned two and passed the Ducks for the Pacific lead.
The Kings (16-6-4) are one point behind the Ducks. The Sharks (16-3-5) have 37 points in 24 games, three fewer than the Ducks have played.
Goaltender Ben Scrivens made 38 saves in regulation and overtime, as did San Jose's Antti Niemi. San Jose finally prevailed when Joe Thornton tucked the puck inside the right post and the Kings' Tyler Toffoli was stopped.
Scrivens is 5-0-3 in his last eight starts. The Kings have points in 11 straight games (7-0-4) but are 0-3-4 in their last seven regular-season games here.
"I thought I was there but it was a fortuitous bounce on his part," Scrivens said.
The goalie wasn't consoled by the Kings' having earned three of four points in Vancouver and San Jose, saying he should have been more proficient in the shootout.
"We'd like four. That's our goal. We'll take every point we can get but we're not satisfied by any means with three," he said. "We've got a team that expects to win and we've got a team that can win, so we've got to find a way. Again, it starts with me making a few more [saves]."
San Jose built a 2-1 lead over the first two periods but Drew Doughty's attempt to put the puck on net caromed off San Jose defenseman Scott Hannan to bring the Kings even at 2-2 at 6 minutes 23 seconds of the third period.
The Kings had struck early in the game, silencing fans' chants of "Beat L.A." Carter won the puck along the boards and passed to Mike Richards, whose shot ricocheted off the end boards. Dwight King pounced on it and made a short, sweet pass to Carter, who lifted it into the upper-left corner of the net 18 seconds into the game.
San Jose pressed furiously late in the period and outshot the Kings, 18-8, but Scrivens protected the lead until 2:43 of the second period. Sharks center Pavelski threw the puck on net, but it was blocked by defenseman Jake Muzzin and sat in the slot. Muzzin couldn't reach it, leaving Pavelski to rifle a wrist shot past Scrivens.
The Kings were credited with five shots during a four-minute power play after Dan Boyle was penalized for high-sticking Williams, but Niemi stymied them each time.
San Jose took a 2-1 lead on a fluke goal at 16:54 of the second period. Hertl dumped the puck into the zone and it went behind the net. Scrivens had defenseman Willie Mitchell with him as Sharks center Thornton pursued the puck, and it somehow struck Scrivens' leg and caromed into the net. Thornton was credited with the goal and moved into 50th place among career scorers with 1,143 points.
The Kings' tying goal was lucky, to a degree, but Scrivens made a nice handoff to Doughty for the rink-length rush that was capped by the shot and that fortunate bounce. But they did a lot of things right to make the play possible and later killed three straight minor penalties in the third period, typical of their strengths during the time they've been without key players.
"When we had that flood of injuries, I think a lot of people were probably thinking it's going to be a tough couple weeks," team captain Brown said before the game.
"That's the interesting thing. I think this team, not only this year but in years past, has always dealt with adversity like that really well. And that's the strength of our team."
He also said that while Quick, center Kopitar and Doughty are "the guys," the other guys have learned to play without them and do more than just get by.
"That shows our mentality as a team," Brown said. "It's not just ever about one individual or a couple of players. It's always been a team mentality here. That's what makes it strong."
But they need to be stronger still.
"We're going in the right direction, getting points, but we also feel like we can play a little bit better," Kopitar said. "There's always room for improvement but we do believe we're on the right path to get to the next level. It's a matter of working and getting better every day."