The Kings’ task Saturday night was simple.
They needed a victory over the San Jose Sharks to finish fifth in the Western Conference playoffs and face the fourth-place St. Louis Blues. A loss to the Sharks would have dropped the Kings to sixth and set up a date with the Vancouver Canucks.
The Kings punched their ticket to St. Louis with a 3-2 victory over the Sharks in the regular-season finale at Staples Center. The Kings won all three games against the Blues, outscoring them 14-7 during the lockout-shortened 48-game season.
The opening-round schedule will be announced today.
Defenseman Slava Voynov gave the Kings a 2-1 lead at 5 minutes, 31 seconds of the second period, whistling a shot from the right point through traffic, off a defender’s stick and past Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi. Justin Williams made it 3-1 at the 12-minute mark of the third.
San Jose’s T.J. Galiardi cut it to 3-2 with 2:26 remaining.
After a scoreless first period,. Kyle Clifford scored for the Kings after 48 seconds of the second, tying his career high with his seventh goal. Logan Couture countered for the Sharks at 1:37 with his team-leading 21st, on a dash through the defense.
The second-period scoring flurry interrupted a goaltending duel between Niemi and Jonathan Quick of the Kings, the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the MVP of the 2012 playoffs. Each made a number of eye-catching saves.
“It’s huge to go into the playoffs on a winning note, and winning against a good team like San Jose on Saturday would be a huge confidence booster for our team and something we really need,” Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said before the game.
The Kings seemed to have fourth place and home-ice advantage in the opening round well within their grasp when they left town last Monday for a two-game playoff tune-up trip to play the Minnesota Wild and the Detroit Red Wings.
The Kings lost both games, fell into fifth place and raised the distinct probability they would have to defend the Stanley Cup championship they won in 2012 without the benefit of home-ice advantage without having it again in 2013.
The scalding Blues clinched fourth Saturday with a victory over the NHL-leading Chicago Blackhawks, who rested several of their top players. The Blues’ victory left the Kings and Sharks to battle at Staples Center for the opportunity to travel to St. Louis.
The sixth-place Sharks will face third-place Vancouver.
Last spring, the Kings proved home-ice advantage wasn’t as important in the least, becoming the first eighth-seeded team to win the Cup. This spring, they went into the playoffs with six consecutive losses on the road and six straight wins at home going into Saturday.
The Kings played the most meaningful game of their season without their team captain Dustin Brown, who served the second and final game of an NHL suspension for elbowing Minnesota’ Jason Pominville in the Wild’s victory Tuesday.
They also were without defenseman Matt Greene, who sat out because of an undisclosed injury unrelated to the back surgery that sidelined him for 42 games this season. Greene was an important part of the Kings’ run to their Cup victory last spring.