Surging Kings host Sharks in key Western battle

The Kings are putting together a surge that they hope will get them into the playoffs. The Sharks, meanwhile, are looking to bounce back from a missed opportunity.

The two Pacific Division rivals will see plenty of each other down the stretch, beginning with tonight's battle in Los Angeles.

The Kings have matched their longest winning streak of the season, winning four straight to push their point total to 82. That matches the Sharks, for ninth overall in the Western Conference, just a point back of the Stars, Coyotes and Avalanche for a playoff spot.

Due to number of games played, Dallas currently leads the Pacific Division and battles seventh-seeded Phoenix tonight. Eighth-place Colorado is also in action as it hosts a Calgary team that is a point behind Los Angeles and San Jose.

Both the Kings and Sharks have 10 games left on the season and that includes a season-ending home-and-home series against each other that begins in Los Angeles on April 5 and ends in San Jose two days later.

The Sharks have sandwiched a pair of home wins around a 2-0 loss in Los Angeles this season and have won seven of the past 11 encounters overall. They have lost three straight in LA.

San Jose had a chance to jump into first place in the division last night with a third straight win, but instead lost a 5-3 game to Anaheim. Ryane Clowe had a goal and assisted on scores by Martin Havlat and Joe Pavelski, while Antti Niemi gave up four goals on 26 shots before getting pulled in favor of Thomas Greiss. The backup made 13 saves in relief.

"It's disappointing. We could have hopped over a bunch of teams tonight," said Sharks captain Joe Thornton. "But that's sports and it's unfortunate we just didn't win. We can't feel sorry for ourselves. We have to go to LA and play hard tomorrow."

San Jose should be encouraged by the play of Havlat, who returned last week from a 39-game absence due to a hamstring injury. He has three goals and an assist in three games back.

He'll look to continue that surge tonight against the Kings, who will try to win five in a row for the first time since a six-game winning streak from Oct. 28-Nov. 13 of last season. Their current run was extended on Saturday with a 4-2 triumph over the Predators.

Anze Kopitar scored in his third straight game, lighting the lamp in the first period, while Dustin Penner, Dwight King and Kyle Clifford broke open a tie game with third-period tallies. Penner also had an assist and backup goaltender Jonathan Bernier made 19 saves in Los Angeles' seventh victory in nine games.

"We've been playing really well, this is playoff hockey for us," said Los Angeles' Trevor Lewis, who had two assists. "We just have to keep it going now. We kept pouring it on in the third, and it worked for us."

Los Angeles picked up a victory in the opener of a four-game homestand and improved to 23-1-2 when scoring at least three goals this season.