Kings, Sharks take playoff fight outside

( - A key battle in the race for a Western Conference playoff spot will be waged outside among the elements, as the San Jose Sharks host the rival Los Angeles Kings in Saturday's outdoor clash at Levi's Stadium.

The home of the NFL's San Francisco 49ers in Santa Clara, California will serve as the setting for tonight's important Stadium Series matchup.

The Sharks are hanging onto the final postseason berth in the West and the defending champion Kings are lurking just two points behind. Minnesota sits in between the two clubs with 67 points, one less than San Jose.

As tight as the race is for the last wild card spot in the West, the battle for the second and third automatic berths from the Pacific Division is even closer. San Jose is tied with the Calgary Flames, who hold the tiebreaker with a game in hand, and is only one point in back of second-place Vancouver.

Although San Jose would qualify for playoffs if the season ended today, it may need a win Saturday more than the Kings. After dealing with what many folks would dub a "Stanley Cup hangover" for a large part of the 2014-15 campaign, L.A. is finally resembling the team which has won two of the league's last three titles. The Kings enter Saturday on a six-game winning streak, which ties a run from Oct. 12-26 as the club's longest stretch of wins this season.

Conversely, February has been a monumental struggle for the Sharks. Todd McLellan's squad won its last game, notching a 5-2 win in Dallas on Thursday, but overall San Jose is sporting a poor 3-5-2 record this month. With only 22 games left on the schedule, the Sharks can ill afford a protracted slump at this juncture.

On top of its recent struggles, San Jose also is haunted by the ghost of last spring's historic playoff collapse in the opening round against the Kings, who became the fourth team in NHL history to win a series after losing the first three games.

The Sharks have won two of three against L.A. in the 2014-15 season series, but it's important they put forth a strong effort Saturday against a Kings team that has been on a roll.

"We've got to start winning. This was a huge game," Sharks forward Andrew Desjardins said after he scored twice in the win over the Stars. "We've got to start learning to win and start getting on the winning track again, so I think this was a big start."

Patrick Marleau and Tommy Wingels tallied late in regulation for San Jose on Thursday. Marc-Edouard Vlasic also hit the net, with Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl each contributing a pair of assists for the Sharks.

Antti Niemi backed the strong offensive effort with a 37-save performance.

The Kings last played on Wednesday, when they recorded a 4-1 triumph in Colorado.

Jonathan Quick withstood a barrage of Avalanche shots to help L.A. keep its winning streak alive. Quick stopped 42 shots, while Jeff Carter led the offense with a pair of goals.

Tyler Toffoli had a goal with an assist and Dustin Brown also tallied a goal in the win.

"They came out hard tonight," said Toffoli. "We showed a lot of heart and grit getting back in this one."

After tonight's outdoor showdown, the Kings will next hit the ice when they host Detroit on Tuesday. San Jose's next game won't be until Thursday against the Red Wings.

Both the Kings and Sharks are expected to go with their No. 1 goalies tonight, with Niemi facing Quick.