The stage was great, and so were the stakes.
In a battle at Levi’s Stadium, in front of more than 70,000 hockey fans, the L.A. Kings moved back into third place in the Pacific Division with a 2-1 win over the host San Jose Sharks in a physical, intense game between two California rivals.
Marian Gaborik scored the winner, beating Antti Niemi with a slap shot that found its way under the left arm of the Sharks goalie.
“Yeah, it’s definitely special. It was my second outdoor game,” said Gaborik.
“It’s been fun in terms of putting pucks into the net. But it definitely feels good to get the goal. So brought us each two points, and it was a fun game tonight.”
With the victory, the Kings have won seven games in a row. They’re serving notice to the Western Conference. Meanwhile, the Sharks have fallen out of the top eight in the conference, as the playoff race heats up.
“Well, we’ve been very inconsistent this year. The last seven games we played some good hockey,” said Gaborik. “We played some Kings hockey like we know how to play, and we’ve been getting great goaltending throughout the team everybody is contributing.”
The Kings began this streak on Feb. 7. It followed a three-game losing streak, and seven losses in eight games.
Back on Feb. 6, the Kings were 12th in the conference, and five points back of the Vancouver Canucks for the final Wild Card spot.
“If you look at our schedule, we have a two-game trip for us, and we have 14 road games and 12 division games so I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on where we are right now,” said Kings head coach Darryl Sutter.
The Sharks got off to a slow start under the lights of Levi’s Stadium, but were much stronger through the middle part of the game. However, Gaborik’s early goal in the third period turned the momentum in favor of the Kings, who were able to hold on in the final minute.
“We were disappointed in the outcome. I’m not disappointed in the effort and what our group put into the game,” said Sharks head coach Todd McLellan.
“We would have preferred to win. It was a hard-fought game by two good teams that played a pretty even match. So the outcome is very disappointing, but everything else we’re proud of. I think our city and Northern California has to be extremely proud.”