Sharks, Kings meet as battle for playoffs heats up

NHL Hockey

The Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks can’t afford any prolonged losing streaks, especially after both have scratched and clawed their way back into playoff contention in the West Division.

The two will meet in the second game of their back-to-back set on Saturday night in Los Angeles. The Sharks beat the Kings 3-0 in the opener on Friday.

Both teams have benefited from a slump by the St. Louis Blues, who fell out of fourth place in the West on Friday after posting a 2-6-4 mark in the past 12 games.

The Arizona Coyotes now sit in fourth, three points ahead of the Sharks and five in front of the Kings.

Los Angeles coach Todd McLellan said the Kings need to treat every remaining game as if it were a postseason matchup.

“It doesn’t matter whether the team is next to you in the standings or not,” McLellan said. “When you’re in an eight-team division, and four are going to make it, every night is a four-point game.”

The Sharks won four of six to finish off the month of March, including back-to-back wins against the visiting Kings on March 22-24, and two straight victories against the visiting Minnesota Wild on Monday and Wednesday.

The Wild are third in the West Division.

Among the players who are contributing for the Sharks lately is Rudolfs Balcers, who had a goal and two assists on Friday for his second multi-point game since San Jose claimed him off waivers in January.

San Jose coach Bob Boughner has been impressed with Balcers, originally a fifth-round pick of San Jose in 2015, who will turn 24 on Thursday.

“I see Rudy topping out as a top six guy that could score 20 goals a year,” Boughner said. “He can kill some penalties once he gets to that point when he keeps getting some more experience. He can be a valuable player, and he fits into how we want to play.”

The Kings never strung together consecutive wins in March, but finished off the month with a 4-2 win at the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday to earn a split of the two-game set.

Vegas is second in the West Division, two points behind the Colorado Avalanche.

“When we play against a team like Vegas, to come out of the road trip and basically play .500, I don’t think it affects them a lot in the standings, but it sure does for us,” McLellan said. “Important for us to approach every game like that.”

The Sharks, who entered play Friday with the fifth-worst save percentage in the NHL (.899), are expected to start Devan Dubnyk in goal after Martin Jones occupied that position on Friday.

Dubnyk has lost his past four starts, giving up 14 goals on 119 shots (88.2 save percentage). He’s 3-9-2 on the season with a 3.18 goals-against average and .898 save percentage, well off his career averages of 2.60 and .914.

Dubnyk has not faced the Kings this season, but has done well in his career against Los Angeles, owning a 9-6-2 mark with a .927 save percentage and 2.32 GAA.

The Sharks will continue to be without forward Matt Nieto, a Long Beach, Calif., native who has a lower-body injury.

Dylan Gambrell didn’t practice on Thursday after blocking a shot on Wednesday, but he was back in the lineup on Friday.

–Field Level Media

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