This was a (potential) sneak playoff preview: The Sharks pushed hard. The Kings pushed back even harder.
San Jose scored twice in the second period and the Kings matched those two goals by the end of the second. Sharks goalie Antti Niemi was flawless until the final 6:01 of the second period, and his counterpart, Jonathan Quick kept the Kings afloat with a superb performance in occasional moments of disarray.
One successful move almost demanded a countermove and the Kings and Sharks certainly were up to the challenge in an intriguing, fast-paced playoff appetizer that the Sharks won, 3-2, in a shootout Tuesday night at HP Pavilion.
It took three rounds and was decided by the Sharks' third shooter, Raffi Torres, who beat Quick between the pads. Logan Couture and Dan Boyle missed for the Sharks, and Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards missed for the Kings.
"I just wanted to be patient and see what he [Niemi] was doing," Richards said of his attempt, which ended the shootout and the game. "I saw on Kopi's that he was back in his net. I wanted to stop like I normally do. I faked the shot. If he stayed up and patient with me, I was going to shoot low and five-hole.
"He went down, so I just had to get the shot up, and if I would have got it a foot and a half off the ice, it would have been in. I just missed my shot and I guess that's the difference."
Kings Coach Darryl Sutter lauded Niemi.
"Niemi doesn't get any credit, being out West," Sutter said. "What's he got, 20-some wins? He was the best player on the ice tonight, that's for sure."
There is still plenty of hockey to be played in this odd but wildly entertaining shortened season. That is, there is plenty to be decided because the Kings and Sharks, now tied for fourth in the Western Conference with 53 points, have five games remaining in the regular season, including the finale against each other April 27 at Staples Center.
If the playoffs were to start today, they would meet in the first round, with the Kings having home-ice advantage. It would be a rematch of their opening-round series two years ago.
If the Kings and Sharks do meet, maybe by then the Kings will have an answer for defenseman-turned-right wing Brent Burns of the Sharks. Burns, who has played 18 of the last 19 games up front, had the impact shift of Tuesday's game, scoring an unassisted goal and setting up another in the span of 42 seconds in the second period.
He took advantage of a Dustin Penner turnover to make it 1-0 at 8:48, beating Quick on the glove side from the edge of the right circle. The Sharks scored on their next shot to double their lead on T.J. Galiardi's goal, assisted by linemates Burns and captain Joe Thornton, at 9:30.
Muzzin's goal came on a blast from the point. It was his seventh goal of the season but first since March 18. Brown's goal came from typical hard work and persistence, jabbing away at a rebound after Niemi had stopped Kopitar on a breakaway.
Since a 3-1 loss at Phoenix on April 2, the Kings have lost just once in regulation and have put themselves in a strong position to secure home-ice advantage for the playoffs.