(SportsNetwork.com) - The struggling Los Angeles Kings hope a return to San Jose can get their disappointing 2014-15 season on track, as the defending Stanley Cup champions visit the Sharks for Wednesday's battle at SAP Center.
The Kings, of course, won their second Stanley Cup title in three seasons last spring, but the championship run was nearly over shortly after getting started.
San Jose met L.A. in the first round of the playoffs and jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the series before allowing the Kings to match the greatest comeback in NHL playoff history by winning the final four tilts, including a 5-1 win in the decisive Game 7 at SAP Center on April 30.
Tonight's test marks the first meeting between the Pacific Division rivals in San Jose since that Game 7. The clubs have met twice at Staples Center so far in 2014-15 and split those two tilts. The Sharks posted a 4-0 win in L.A. on Oct. 8 before the Kings claimed a 3-1 decision on Dec. 27.
The Kings, who went on to defeat the New York Rangers in five games for the 2014 Cup, are currently outside the postseason picture in the Western Conference. They enter Wednesday one point behind Calgary for the last wild card spot in the West, but Los Angeles also is just two points behind the Sharks for the third and final automatic playoff bid in the Pacific.
"They just have to keep understanding and listening to what I'm telling them about how tough it is to make the [playoffs]," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said after practice on Tuesday. "The train has got to be a work train, not the Stanley Cup train. The Stanley Cup train was last year, and some guys just have to get off that train."
L.A. has not helped its playoff cause lately, losing six of its last seven games. The Kings also have lost three straight (0-1-2) with the last two setbacks coming beyond regulation.
After dropping a 3-2 shootout decision to rival Anaheim on Saturday, the Kings ended a disappointing seven-game homestand with Monday's 2-1 overtime loss to Calgary, which took control of the final postseason berth in the West thanks to the victory.
The Kings, who went 1-2-4 on the homestand, surrendered the winning goal to Calgary's Dennis Wideman in the final minute of the extra session. However, it was not immediately evident that Wideman's shot went into the net.
Wideman fired a shot on net from the left circle that appeared to hit the crossbar and come out the other side. However, when play was stopped and the refs got a chance to review, it was determined that the puck hit the camera in the back of the net and came out, and Wideman was credited with his 12th goal of the season for the win.
Matt Greene scored and Jonathan Quick had 21 saves for the Kings, who are just 5-8-6 as the guest this season and begin a road-heavy stretch of their schedule tonight.
L.A. will play six of its next seven away from the Staples Center. After tonight the club won't play again until emerging from the All-Star break for next Wednesday's home showdown against the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Sharks also enter tonight on a downturn, having lost two straight and four of their last six games.
San Jose won the opener of a seven-game homestand against Toronto, but has since lost two straight. The Sharks lost a 4-3 overtime decision against Calgary on Saturday before getting slammed 5-2 in Monday's clash with the New Jersey Devils.
Mike Cammalleri scored the eventual game-winner for New Jersey with a power- play tally late in the second period to make it a 3-2 game. San Jose fired 18 shots at Cory Schneider in the third period, but the only goals in the stanza came off the sticks of Devils as Adam Larsson and Jacob Josefson padded New Jersey's lead to three goals.
Joe Pavelski and Matt Nieto each scored for the Sharks, while Alex Stalock gave up all five goals on 34 shots in his first start since Jan. 6.
"It's not the result we wanted," said Pavelski. "Where we're at right now, we want to start trending upwards."
In addition to dropping the game, San Jose also lost a pair of players to injury in the loss to the Devils. Defenseman Justin Braun left the game in the second period after blocking a shot and did not return. Braun's injury was deemed to be an upper-body issue, as was the one which caused Tommy Wingels to depart the game for good in the third period.
Sharks head coach Todd McLellan said both Braun and Wingels will be out "weeks." Wingels is tied for third on the team with 11 goals and is fifth on the club with 25 points. Braun is the club's second-highest scoring defenseman in 2014-15 with his 19 points trailing only Brent Burns.
San Jose, which will continue its homestand next Thursday against Anaheim, is 11-8-3 at the Shark Tank this season. Not including last season's playoff encounter, the Kings have lost eight of nine in San Jose.
Antti Niemi is expected to start tonight for the Sharks. The veteran netminder is 13-7-3 with a 2.37 goals against average in his career against L.A. Quick is likely to get the call for the Kings and is 12-5-5 with a 2.49 GAA when facing the San Jose.