LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Kings came out swinging like a veteran boxer determined to salvage his pride.
But in the end, it was the San Jose Sharks that delivered the knock-out punch. Not just in the game, but likely in the series.
Patrick Marleau's backhand winner 6 minutes, 20 seconds into overtime capped a thrilling 4-3 win Tuesday night, San Jose now up three-nil in the series.
"Just a huge, huge win for us,'" said Sharks captain Joe Thornton, who was a beast all night long. "Patty Marleau, to come up with that goal was just huge for us."
Not that you would know walking into the visitors' dressing room at Staples Center that the Sharks now have the Kings on the ropes. Perhaps telling of the long journey that this deep and talented Sharks team believes is ahead this spring, it was business as usual in that room after the game.
Just another day at the office for a team that has the 2012 Stanley Cup champs one game away from elimination.
"It feels good, but there's still a lot of work to be done," Marleau said.
The victory was important in so many ways, including finally winning here at Staples Center, where the Kings have not lost in regulation to the Sharks since November 2011, a streak that includes in the playoffs.
"It's been a while. It feels good," Sharks forward Joe Pavelski said. "It's another step in this series, they'll be coming at us again next game."
Will they be?
The Kings left it all on the line on this night, their top players raising their game after two awful showings in San Jose to start the series.
"I thought we played a pretty good hockey game tonight," Kings head coach Darryl Sutter said. "I think our better players were better."
They were. Jarret Stoll was sensational, opening the scoring for the Kings while hitting every Shark in sight. Mike Richards was stronger. Marian Gaborik was actually visible, scoring a beauty in the second period. And overall, the Kings' veterans responded with their season essentially on the line.
One of those veterans, Jeff Carter, made it 3-2 Kings 51 seconds into the third period and it felt like perhaps L.A. was on its way to making this the series many of us thought we'd be getting.
The Sharks saved their best hockey for the third period, dominating puck possession and outshooting the Kings a whopping 23-8. Then Tomas Hertl tied it 3-3 at 9:17 to set up overtime.
"Coming into the room [before overtime], we felt good," Thornton said. "Our best period was the third and we thought we could roll it over in the overtime. Our group just felt comfortable that someone was going to be the hero tonight, and thank goodness it was Patty."
And while Sharks netminder Antti Niemi had to be sharp early in OT as the Kings came back with another wave of desperation, registering the first five shots of the period, Marleau ended it on San Jose's first shot of the extra session.
And it very likely ended the series, for all intent and purposes.
It began with so much promise for a Kings team determined to change the course of this series after getting blown away in San Jose, outscored 13-5 in the opening two games.
The Kings managed to slow down the pace for 40 minutes Tuesday night and play their kind of game, limiting the Sharks to 16 shots through two periods. It wasn't a track meet. The Sharks were frustrated.
"We didn't do a good job of getting pucks to the net like we did the first two games," Marleau said of the opening two periods. "But in the third period things started to turn around for us and gave us that confidence again."
The Kings might salvage some pride Thursday night in Game 4, but they just don't have the juice this year to keep up with the Sharks' four-line attack that's twisting them in knots and leaving them gasping for air by the end of each game.
The Sharks got their lineup healthy just in time for the playoffs and now look like the deepest team in the NHL.
Watch out NHL, the Sharks are coming.