Marty McSorley deflected in the winning goal off a Winnipeg defenseman’s skate at 3:37 of overtime Wednesday night, allowing the Kings to edge the Jets, 2-1, and clinch second place in the Smythe Division.
In the sixth consecutive overtime game between the two teams, McSorley’s centering pass from the left corner of the crease hit the back of Dave Ellett’s skate and ricocheted past goalie Pokey Reddick. Reddick had made 48 saves before allowing the winning goal.
The Kings will now have the home-ice advantage in their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series with third-place Edmonton beginning next Wednesday. They had never finished higher than fourth since the realignment of the Smythe Division in 1981-82.
The Kings will be meeting the defending Stanley Cup champion Oilers for the fourth time in their past five appearances in the playoffs.
Wayne Gretzky scored the only goal of the first period for the Kings with 4:18 to play when he rifled in a 35-foot slap shot on a breakaway. Seconds before, Kings’ goalie Kelly Hrudey had stopped Fredrik Olausson’s point-blank shot on a three-on-one breakaway.
Hrudey cleared the puck to Gretzky just inside the Kings’ blue line, and Gretzky skated in alone against Reddick, beating him high in the glove side. Hrudey got a rare assist.
Gretzky’s 54th goal of the season leaves him just 17 points short of surpassing Gordie Howe’s NHL career record 1,850 points.
Former King Paul Fenton tied the game at the 16:18 mark of the second period. Fenton’s shot from a severe angle 20 feet to the right of the Kings goal ricocheted in off the left skate of Hrudey.
The Kings wound up outshooting the last-place Jets, 50-29.