(SportsNetwork.com) - While Thursday night will mark the final regular season meeting between the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks, the two clubs appear on track for a first-round playoff matchup in a few weeks.
The top three teams in each division earn playoff spots, with the second and third-place teams meeting in the opening round.
The Sharks currently are second in the Pacific Division with 105 points, three back of the first-place Anaheim Ducks and with one fewer game left on the schedule. The Ducks are idle tonight after besting the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday.
Those two clubs had already secured playoff berths and the third-place Kings joined them thanks to last night's 4-0 triumph over the Phoenix Coyotes. That assured Los Angeles at least third place in the division, though it trails San Jose by nine points with just five to play.
That makes a first-round matchup between these clubs likely, with San Jose having home-ice advantage.
Though the Kings have won three of four versus the Sharks this season and five of the previous seven meetings overall, they had lost seven straight in San Jose before a 1-0 victory there on Jan. 27.
Anze Kopitar had the lone goal and Jonathan Quick made 23 saves for the shutout, while back Sharks goaltender Alex Stalock took a tough-luck loss with 20 saves.
Quick notched his sixth shutout of the season last night, making 17 saves to top the Coyotes. His 31 career shutouts are just one behind Rogie Vachon for the most in club history and Quick secured Los Angeles' 12th shutout as a team this season, a new franchise best.
Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar and Tanner Pearson each had a goal and an assist, while Drew Doughty also tallied in his club's seventh victory in eight games.
The Kings are 15-4-0 in their last 19 games and secured their fifth straight trip to the postseason, but that is no longer the benchmark for a team that won the Stanley Cup in 2012.
"Maybe four or five years ago, this was a big deal," said Kings captain Dustin Brown. "Now this is just part of the process. It is good to get it out of the way now when we need to use our remaining games to get our game in order."
Los Angeles picked up its 45th victory of the campaign, one shy of a single- season club record set in 1990-91 and matched in both 2009-10 and 2010-11.
With the Kings just about locked into third place, backup Martin Jones is likely to give Quick a break tonight. Jones has recorded three of the Kings' 12 shutouts this season and beat the Sharks the only other time he faced them, stopping 31-of-32 shots faced in a 4-1 home victory on Dec. 19.
The Kings begin a four-game road trip against a Sharks club that halted a two- game slide by winning Tuesday's opener of a three-game residency 5-4 over the Oilers.
Patrick Marleau's power-play goal at the 12:31 mark of the third period lifted San Jose to the win, while Brent Burns and Dan Boyle added a goal and an assist each.
Antti Niemi stopped 25-of-29 shots as San Jose had to rally after failing to hold a 3-1 advantage.
"It's a bittersweet win," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "It was nice to see us come back and score five, and the power play contributed. Those types of things are nice, but I'm going to leave the rink a little more frustrated than excited. I still think our team looks lethargic. Not as much physically but mentally."
Joe Thornton finished with two assists and is second in the NHL with 63 helpers on the season.
Niemi is 11-6-3 with a 2.52 goals against average and two shutouts lifetime versus the Kings.