SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Long after the good (rocker John Fogerty), the bad (the Kings’ white hockey pants) and the perplexing (Melissa Etheridge’s cover of Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart”) fade away, the latest offering of outdoor hockey will be remembered for something else.
Saturday was the night the Kings announced their relevance in the Pacific Division race, beating the San Jose Sharks, 2-1, at Levi’s Stadium to win their seventh game in a row, a season-high.
An old-fashioned hockey story broke out in the great outdoors under less-than-stellar ice conditions before a crowd of 70,205.
The Kings, behind goals by wingers Kyle Clifford and Marian Gaborik, moved back into a playoff spot, past the Sharks and the Calgary Flames. They are occupying third place in the Pacific Division and are one point out of the second spot, trailing the Vancouver Canucks. For Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, it was his 200th regular-season NHL victory.
“I think for the guys that haven’t played in an (outdoor) game, it’s a good experience,” said Gaborik, who played in one when he was with the New York Rangers. “It’s my second outdoor game. It’s a cool experience, especially for the people, to have a game in California here.”
Gaborik got the winner at 4:04 of the third period as the Kings capitalized on a Brent Burns turnover in the neutral zone. For Gaborik, it was his 17th goal of the season and first since Feb. 5 as he beat Sharks goalie Antti Niemi with a shot from the top of the left circle.
“Jeff (Carter) was forechecking and the puck got to him, to Burns, and then he picked it off from him,” said Gaborik, who had gone six games without scoring. “It was bouncing and I shot and it went in.”
And so, Kings right wing Justin Williams was right.
He said beforehand that this would be different from their Dodger Stadium game last season against the Ducks, saying: “We’re definitely going to score a goal this time.”
It didn’t take long for his words to come true.
Clifford beat Niemi with a nifty redirection off a shot from Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin, at 2:46, in the first period. The Kings thoroughly outplayed the Sharks through most of the first period, outshooting them, 10-3, with five minutes remaining.
But the Sharks got some life with a Burns goal with 1:04 remaining in the period to tie it and seemed to have the best of play until the third.
“I thought it was really, really good,” Kings Coach Darryl Sutter said. "...For our organization to be able to say we did it two years in a row and two totally different venues. I think everybody involved did a really great job.
“It’s hard to have great ice because it was so humid as the game went on. But I think they were doing everything they could to get snow off I think they got their money’s worth.”
Kings forward Trevor Lewis needed repairs before the game started, getting cut under his eye during warmups and needed stitches.
“It was loud when we first walked out there too,” he said. “I got a couple of goosebumps. Obviously I got some stitches in warmups, so I got into it pretty good. The puck bounced up and someone swatted it and hit me in the eye. I got into it early.”
The Kings had a winning streak of six games in October before free-falling, and they are putting it all together at the right time, as they so often do, to the dismay of the rest of the league.
“The last seven games we played some good hockey,” Gaborik said. “We played some Kings hockey like we know how to play, and we’ve been getting great goaltending. Throughout the team everybody is contributing. “
Lewis added: “We’re on a little roll here and I think we can build off tonight and keep going. It seems like when our backs are against the wall, this team finds a way to pull out of it.”
For the slumping Sharks? It was all too familiar, another tough defeat at the hands of the Kings, who beat them in the first round of the playoffs last spring, rallying from a 3-0 series deficit.