EL SEGUNDO—Before the puck even drops Thursday night against the San Jose Sharks in a pivotal Pacific Division game at Staples Center, the Kings could clinch a playoff spot for the third consecutive season.
That was news to some of the Kings following practice Wednesday, including coach Darryl Sutter.
“Seriously?” he said.
As serious as a Game 7.
The Kings need to gain one point against the Sharks to clinch one of the three remaining playoff berths in the Western Conference. Or, they could slip in the back door if the Dallas Stars lose to the Predators in a game set to begin in Nashville at 5 p.m. Pacific time, about 2 ½ hours before the start of the Kings game.
Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said it’s probably better if the Kings don’t know the outcome of the Dallas game.
“We don’t want to get lackadaisical,” he said. “We don’t want to just make the playoffs, we want that third spot.”
The Kings begin Thursday atop the Pacific Division standings. Since the three division winners in each conference are guaranteed one of the top three seeds, the Kings would fall into the No. 3 slot in the West should they hold on to win their first division title in 21 years.
They got in as the sixth seed two years ago and lost to Vancouver in the first round. Last season they blew a chance for the fourth seed and home-ice advantage in the opening round by losing their final two regular-season games, then falling to the Sharks in a six-game series.
Sutter stressed to the team prior to practice Wednesday the importance of earning home-ice advantage, especially when it comes to a Games 1 and 7.
“Home ice, home-cooking, it’s an advantage, no matter how you want to spin it the other way,” said left wing Dustin Penner.
A potential Game 1 or 7 at Staples Center is still just a blip on the horizon for the Kings, even with just two games remaining in the regular season, both against San Jose.
Another division rival, the Phoenix Coyotes, have the same amount of points as the Kings (93), and both sides have the same number of regulation and overtime victories, the tiebreaker that’s applied when teams are tied in points. However, the Kings are ahead on the second tiebreaker, points earned in head-to-head match ups, 8-7.
And then there are the Sharks, who came into the season with lofty expectations and sit just one point behind the Kings in the Pacific Division standings. A regulation win and they’re on top heading into the season finale. Any type of loss and they could be on the outside looking in for the playoffs.
And don’t count out the Stars, who went 10-0-1 from Feb. 21 to March 13 to climb atop the division, only to lose seven of their last 10 to tumble to the brink of elimination.
“We’re certainly not banking on them losing,” right wing Justin Williams said of the Stars. “We’re banking on them winning their next two and we need to do the same.”
Even if that means treating both like a Game 7.