March 28 – Day 165 – Battle of California

It may have taken overtime, but the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Rangers 3-2 in New York to win the season series 3-1-0.

4:19 after dropping the opening puck, Second Star of the Game Eric Staal backhanded a goal after assists from Kevin Hayes and Jesper Fast (his 17th helper of the season), but the Blueshirts could not enter the intermission with the lead.  Matt Cullen leveled the game with 4:11 remaining in the period for the Penguins, assisted by Derrick Pouliot and Trevor Daley (his 20th helper of the season).  The one-all score held into the break.

It was a night of early starts for Staal, as he scored only 2:07 after returning to the ice, assisted by Fast and Hayes (his 22nd helper of the season) to give the Rangers another lead.  They held onto that differential for only 6:29 before First Star Phil Kessel scored his 23rd goal of the season, assisted by Carl Hagelin, to again level the score for Pittsburgh.  Not only did the 2-2 score hold into the dressing room, but also to the final horn of regulation, forcing overtime.

With only 30 seconds remaining in the overtime period, Third Star Sidney Crosby scored the game winner, assisted by Kris Letang (his 43rd helper of the season) and Kessel, to pull the Pens within three points of second place in the Metropolitan Division.

Marc-Andre Fleury earns the win after saving 25 of his 27 shots faced (92.6%), while Henrik Lundqvist takes the overtime loss, saving 29 of 32 (90.6%).

Pittsburgh‘s win is the second straight for the road teams, setting the DtFR Game of the Day series at 74-43-18, favoring the home sides by 30 points over the roadies.

Eight games will take place this Monday evening, starting with two at 7 p.m. eastern (Winnipeg at Philadelphia and Columbus at Washington), followed half an hour later by another pair (Buffalo at Detroit [NBCSN] and Toronto at Tampa Bay [TVAS]).  Colorado at Nashville drops the puck at 8 p.m. eastern, with Anaheim at Edmonton trailing an hour later.  Finally, our co-nightcaps get underway at 10 p.m. eastern (Calgary at Arizona and Los Angeles at San Jose [NBCSN]).

Almost all of tonight’s games are between divisional rivals (only Winnipeg at Philadelphia isn’t), but only one is between teams currently qualifying for the playoffs (Los Angeles at San Jose).

As usual, Detroit and Philadelphia have the opportunity to swap spots for the final wildcard, but the game I’m more interested in takes place in The Tank.

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This will be Los Angeles‘ eighth appearance in the Game of the Day series, where they own a 3-4-0 record.  Their most recent time featured was last Monday, when they lost 5-2 in Nashville.  San Jose has been featured six times before tonight’s game, and own a 4-2-0 record in such occasions.  Last time we focused on them, they won 6-3 in St. Louis on February 22.

The 45-25-5 Los Angeles Kings currently occupy the top spot in the Pacific Division and third in the Western Conference (due to winning a games played tiebreaker over Chicago).  To get to that position, they’ve allowed the second fewest goals, paired with an offense that has scored the 13th most goals.  A more in-depth breakdown of LA‘s game can be found within last Monday’s article.

The Kings last played Saturday to a 6-4 home win over the Islanders.  With a win tonight, they have the opportunity to expand their lead for the division over Anaheim to five points, but they will need some help from Edmonton.

The 41-28-6 San Jose Sharks are the third best team in the Pacific Division, and seventh best in the Western Conference.  So far this season they’ve scored the fourth most goals in the league, paired with the 13th stingiest defense.

Led by Brent Burns’ 324 shots, the Sharks have fired the puck 2278 times, with a great 9.5% finding the back of the net for 219 goals (led by Joe Pavelski’s 35 tallies), fourth most in the NHL.  San Jose‘s power play has followed suit, scoring on 22.09% of their attempts for 55 power play goals (led by Pavelski’s 11 extra man tallies), the fourth best rate in the league.

The Sharks have also done well to keep pressure off their goaltenders, allowing only 2041 shots to reach 35-21-4 Martin Jones and co., who’ve collectively saved 91.4% for 196 goals against, the 13th fewest in the league.  San Jose‘s biggest problem this year has been their penalty kill, as their 79.91% kill rate, which has allowed 43 power play goals against, ranks eighth worst in the league.

San Jose enters today’s game riding a three game losing skid, with their last being Saturday’s 4-2 home loss to the Stars.  With a win tonight, they could pull within two points of second in the division and home ice for the quarterfinals, but, just like Los Angeles, are pulling for an Edmonton win this evening over the Ducks.

San Jose currently leads the season series 2-1-1 going into this pivotal fifth game.  The last times these squads met was also in the SAP Center, where Los Angeles won 3-2 in overtime on January 24.

Some players to keep an eye on include Los Angeles‘ Anze Kopitar (+31 [tied for second best in the league] and 68 points [10th most in the league]), Jonathan Quick (38 wins [second most in the league], 2.21 GAA [tied for fifth best in the league] and four shutouts [tied for seventh most in the league]) and Tyler Toffoli (+33 [leads the league]) & San Jose‘s Jones (35 wins [tied for third most in the league], five shutouts [tied for third most in the league] and 2.25 GAA [seventh best in the league]), Pavelski (35 goals [tied for fifth most in the league], +26 [tied for eighth best in the league] and 71 points [ninth most in the league]) and Joe Thornton (55 assists [tied for second most in the league], 72 points [eighth most in the league] and +26 [tied for eighth best in the league]).

This is always a fun game, and the almost even season record between these two shows that.  Even though they’re on the road, I think the Kings have this one, most notably due to San Jose‘s recent cold stretch.

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