SAN JOSE -- The Kings' Playoff Watch continued Monday night, but loyalists would have been wise to avert their eyes. The results were not pretty.
The Kings could have clinched a playoff spot Sunday night if Anaheim beat Dallas. It didn't happen. They could have clinched a spot Monday night with a victory over the San Jose Sharks. That chance vanished well before the game was half finished.
After starting the game with shaky defensive play, the Kings allowed two goals in the game's first nine minutes and simply couldn't handle the firepower of the Sharks, who scored two more early in the second period and went on to a 6-1 victory at HP Pavilion.
``It's just a poor performance by our whole team,'' Kings coach Terry Murray said.
Joe Pavelski and Marc-Eduoard Vlasic scored first-period goals, and after Michal Handzus gave the Kings some life with a goal early in the second period, the Sharks responded with three goals in a seven-minute span to take a four-goal lead.
Jonathan Quick, who started in goal, went to the bench in favor of backup Jonathan Bernier after Quick allowed four goals on 16 shots in less than 26 minutes. It was the third time in his last 27 games that Quick allowed more than three goals in a game, but Quick was only one symptom of the problem in a game full of defensive breakdowns.
The goalie swap provided little spark, as the Kings generated little and the Sharks added two more goals to take a 6-1 lead into the third period. The Kings suffered their most lopsided losing margin of the season, worse than their 4-0 loss to St. Louis last month.
``It's just getting everything handed to you by them,'' defenseman Matt Greene said. ``That was it. They came ready to play. Obviously we didn't. That was right off the drop of the puck. I don't think that we were playing well in the first period. Again, we were giving them chances to score, and that's what good teams do. We knew, going in, that they play a really good game every night, and they're going to get their offense off whatever you give them.
``I think, every one of their goals, we gave it right to them. They took advantage of every opportunity they got, and filled the net on us. It's a good lesson, late in the year, that you're never really as good as you think you are. Especially if you're going to give a good team the opportunity to beat you, like we did tonight.''
With the victory, the Sharks clinched the Pacific Division title and a top-three spot in the conference. With the loss, the Kings slipped to fifth place, behind Phoenix because of the wins tiebreaker and one point ahead of idle sixth-place Nashville, which plays Tuesday.
The Kings can still clinch a playoff spot by totaling at least two points in their final three games, or if Dallas, in its final four games, loses once in regulation or twice in overtime or shootout. The Kings, though, are also fighting for positioning and momentum.
For one, the Kings would like to claim fourth place and home-ice advantage in at least the first round. More importantly, they would like to go into the playoffs feeling good about themselves, and that certainly didn't happen Monday night against the Sharks.
``We're trying to make it interesting, I guess,'' Kings captain Dustin Brown said. ``We have a chance to do it Wednesday. I say this every game, but you've just got to keep looking forward. Whether this was a 2-1 loss or a 6-1 loss, it's still a loss. Move on from there, and we have Phoenix on Wednesday.''
A loss to the Sharks is certainly nothing to cause shame. The Sharks are now 8-0-1 in their last nine games and have been scoring goals by the handful in recent weeks.
The Kings, though, won't be happy with the goals they gave up. Twice within the first nine minutes, defensive lapses led to Sharks players being open in prime scoring opportunities, and twice, the Sharks converted to take an early 2-0 lead.
Without injured forwards Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams, the Kings' capacity for scoring is greatly reduced, and San Jose's scoring burst in the first 30 minutes was too much.
The Sharks scored goals on all types of shots, angles and rushes, and the Kings looked a step slow in their own end and were unable to put consistent pressure on Sharks goalie Antti Niemi, who was strong early and finished with 31 saves.
Niemi got the lead less than two minutes into the game and never lost it.
The Sharks took a 1-0 lead just 1:47 into the first period. Off a faceoff in the Kings' zone, Torrey Mitchell shot from the right faceoff circle. Quick made the save but pushed the rebound directly into the slot, where Pavelski beat Greene to the puck and fired a wrist shot past Quick.
``Greene had no chance on that,'' Murray said. ``That one is 15 feet by him. That came right onto the San Jose forward's stick, and he just shot the puck. That puck, that should never be there to begin with. That's a shot that comes from almost the boards, above the top of the circle, and it comes right back to the middle of the ice. Greene was there, but he had no chance for it. It got by him too quick.''
With Niemi skating to the bench in a delayed-penalty situation, the Sharks took a 2-0 lead at the 8:26 mark. Kyle Wellwood skated the puck into the corner of the Kings' zone, then fired a blind, cross-ice pass right onto the stick of Vlasic, who pinched down and bat Quick with a high shot. Pavelski also got an assist.
The Kings pulled within 2-1, 1:57 into the second period. Alec Martinez passed across the blue line to Greene, who fired a high slap shot. Niemi got a piece of the shot, but Handzus got to the front of the net and knocked in the rebound from close range.
San Jose reclaimed a two-goal lead with a backbreaking goal on the next shift, just 22 seconds later. Andrew Desjardins won the puck during a battle with Brad Richardson in the corner, then sent it to the blue line. Vlasic shot through traffic and Kyle Wellwood deflected the puck past Quick as the Sharks took a 3-1 lead a the 2:19 mark.
``It's happened a lot to us this year, giving up a goal right after we score,'' Brown said. ``Those are momentum goals, and we didn't ever really recover from that goal.''
Bernier replaced Quick in goal after the Sharks scored a fourth goal. Dan Boyle took a pass at center ice from Joe Thornton, and Boyle's wrist shot from the high slot beat Quick cleanly to give the Sharks a 4-1 lead at the 5:33 mark.
Quick stopped 12 of 16 shots. It was the third time this season that Quick had been pulled from a game. Quick had previously been 3-1-0 against the Sharks this season, and had allowed a total of only six goals in four games against San Jose.
Things didn't go any better for Bernier, as the Sharks took a 5-1 lead 9:20 into the second period. Patrick Marleau carried the puck into the Kings' zone, skated freely through the middle of the ice and put a wrist shot on net. Bernier made the save but Thornton, parked at the side of the net, easily knocked the rebound into the net.
The Sharks continued their onslaught when Devin Setoguchi scored with 27 seconds remaining in the second period to make it a 6-1 game. Setoguchi took a short pass from Marleau, skated in and, with only one Kings defender back, fired a high wrist shot past Bernier. Mercifully for the Kings, the final 20 minutes were scoreless.
``When you come into this building, you know you have to play good,'' Murray said. ``You've got to show up and compete real hard. We gave up that first goal, and it's the goals I don't like. You've got to show up against a real good hockey club, and play well, and we didn't do that.''