SAN JOSE, Calif. — It took longer than they would have liked, but the Sharks finally clinched a playoff spot on their fourth try Monday.
Joe Thornton’s third-period, power-play goal broke a 2-2 tie and helped lift the Sharks (42-28-6) past the Los Angeles Kings 5-2 in front of 17,066 at SAP Center.
“It’s been awhile,” Thornton said of clinching for the 11th time in 12 seasons. “We’ve been playing some good hockey, but just haven’t clinched. To finally get that out of the way we’ll keep playing hard and stay healthy.”
The Kings (45-26-5) saw their lead in the Pacific Division trimmed to a single point, as the second-place Anaheim Ducks beat the Oilers in Edmonton.
“It was battle all night against them,” said forward Vincent Lecavalier, who scored both Los Angeles goals. “We wanted the points as much as they too. It doesn’t matter how big the game is for them, it was about us getting those two points but we didn’t get them.”
Thornton scored his 18th goal of the season at 4:28 of the third on a weakside putback of rebound left by Los Angeles goalie Jonathan Quick. San Jose’s Joe Pavelski redirected a Brent Burns drive on goal that Quick could not corral.
“We knew it was going to be tight, always is,” Sharks captain Joe Pavelski said. “It’s good to see the guys step on the gas. The power play had some good looks, and it’s good to see it break through.”
The goal was scored just 11 seconds into a hooking minor by Los Angeles forward Jeff Carter committed against San Jose’s Joonas Donskoi.
“They made a good play on their third goal,” Lecavalier said.
San Jose forward Melker Karlsson scored his 10th goal at 16:41 to increase the lead to 4-2. Defenseman Justin Braun scored his second goal of the game into an empty net with 19 seconds left.
Sharks goalie Martin Jones denied his former teammates by stopping 30 shots. Quick finished with 26 saves.
“We had so many opportunities to get goals we should have won the game,” Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. “We didn’t get that go-ahead goal, and Jones played well in the net for them.”
“That’s kind have been the story all year — we wanted to prove we belong in that category of teams,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. “We feel we do.”
The game was tied 2-2 after an action-packed second period, dominated late by the Kings’ unrelenting forecheck and stingy play in the neutral zone. That said, it took a miraculous paddle save and a fortuitous bounce of the crossbar to prevent Logan Couture’s drive with seconds left from slipping past Quick.
The Sharks took a 2-1 lead at 7:55 of the second. A one-time shot from Burns went in off a double deflection, first striking the shaft of Tomas Hertl’s stick then going off Pavelski, who collected his 36th goal.
“It didn’t think I even touched it,” Pavelski admitted. “I tried to get it changed.”
The Kings rallied when Lecavalier scored his second of the game at 15:43. Lecavalier dragged the puck to the right dot and worked his left-hand shot through defenseman Paul Martin and between the pads of Jones for his 10th goal of the season.
The Sharks rallied from down 1-0 to tie it before the first intermission. The Kings took seven of the first eight shots, but the Sharks had a 10-2 shot edge during the second half of the period.
Los Angeles broke on top by converting only its second power-play goal in 23 chances over 10 games. Lecavalier scored when his wrist shot from the right circle ramped up the stick of Burns and just inside the near post at 9:12.
The goal came on the Kings’ third shot during the 1:12 of five-on-four skating as a result of Braun’s delay-of-game minor.
San Jose struck back at 12:57 at even strength. The puck popped to Karlsson after Tommy Wingels won a battle on the boards. Karlsson fed Braun, who snapped a shot from the slot that beat a screened Quick for his first goal in 15 games and third of the season.
“We might see them in the playoffs,” Doughty said of the Sharks. “We showed them that we’ll be a tough match for them. These are the fun games, both teams are hard-checking and battling hard.”
NOTES: C Joe Thornton is San Jose’s nominee for the Masterton Trophy, symbolizing perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. C Vincent Lecavalier is Los Angeles’ nominee. Current Shark G James Reimer was nominated by Toronto, which dealt him at the NHL deadline. … San Jose LW Joonas Donskoi returned after missing one game with a lower-body injury. … D Marc-Edouard Vlasic, meanwhile, missed his sixth straight game and has yet to even resume skating since leaving the March 17 game. … Los Angeles RW Kris Versteeg (foot) did not accompany the team to San Jose and missed his fifth straight game. He did, however, skate on his own. D Jamie McBain and C Nick Shore were Los Angeles healthy scratches. … San Jose C Nick Spaling was a healthy scratch, missing his first game after playing 17 straight since his trade from Toronto. … The Kings host Calgary on Thursday, while the Sharks conclude a six-game homestand the same night against Vancouver.