SAN JOSE The Pacific Division title may be on the line when the Sharks host the Kings in the final game of the regular season tonight at HP Pavilion.
Or, it may not. A Coyotes win over the lowly Minnesota Wild would give Phoenix its first division title, and the Kings and Sharks would be playing to determine which is the seventh and which is the eighth seed. They should know the stakes right around game time, since the Phoenix-Minnesota game begins two and a half hours before the puck drops in San Jose at 7:30 p.m.
Well try to win. We cant control the other games, and well see after the game where everybody ends up, Marty Havlat said.
Regardless of what they are playing for or not playing for the Sharks would like to go out on a high note. The club could enter the postseason riding a four-game winning streak.
You want to feel good going into the playoffs. Weve got a good thing going right now. We want to keep that going, Marc-Edouard Vlasic said. Guys are feeling good, playing together, and it was great emotional game the last time against LA. Guys are feeling confident, and want to go into the playoffs feeling confident, as well. A big win tonight will do that for us.
Ryane Clowe said: Theres only one game left so you want to make sure you have a good one, and carry that momentum into the playoffs.
The Sharks will face either the Blackhawks, Blues or Canucks in the first round.
Staying disciplined: The Sharks were shorthanded seven times against the Kings on Thursday, which is out of character. San Jose has been shorthanded just 223 times through 81 games a league low.
The fact that the penalty kill struggled, surrendering four Kings power play goals, isnt abnormal. San Jose remains 28th in the league in that regard (77.6 percent).
Todd McLellan was more annoyed with the penalties his club took than its performance while shorthanded.
We cant have an undisciplined game like that again from now until the end of the season, or it will cost us immensely, said the coach. To give up four power play goals and still win, I dont know how that happens in todays game, but it did.
We can look at the PK and there are some areas that we can be better at, but, quite frankly, its the march to the box that was disappointing.
The Sharks took a number of avoidable penalties in the game, especially late. TJ Galiardis elbowing infraction and Patrick Marleaus trip of Justin Williams in the third period prevented San Jose from a chance at winning in regulation when Williams scored on a five-on-three.
If you give them seven opportunities, especially two men short, theyre going to score. You want to minimize that to one, two or three chances in the playoffs, Vlasic said.
The Sharks were 3-for-6 on the power play against the Kings, and have the NHLs second-best percentage (21.0).
Handzus returns: It hasnt been a season to remember for Sharks forward Michal Handzus. Hes been in and out of the lineup since the trade deadline sometimes due to injury, and sometimes the coachs decision.
Torrey Mitchell is out with an undisclosed injury, though, so Handzus will play for the first time since March 26. Its a good bet hell skate on a line with Dominic Moore and Galiardi, in the spot vacated by Mitchell.
Handzus, incidentally, is the Sharks most proficient player in the shootout, going 5-for-10 this season. McLellan said that didnt factor in his decision to put Handzus in rather than, say, Brad Winchester.
We cant play one individual just based on the shootout, at all. You cant do that, McLellan said. We liked the way our four lines were playing, and we liked the energy that we got from them. That kept Michal out of the lineup, and that also gave him some time to heal.
Now, him drawing an assignment to come in to play does two things. It gives us a big body, it gives us a faceoff guy, which we were poor in for most of the game, and it gives us a guy that can penalty kill and play on the power play. And, it gives him an opportunity to get his game together at least once before the playoffs start.
Repeat of Thursday? San Joses 6-5 shootout win against the Kings had just about everything a hockey fan can ask for goals, power plays, hits, and, of course, fights.
Could tonight be more of the same?
They just play a hard, good style. I dont think there will be much difference, Clowe said. Theres still a lot on the line and an opportunity to win the division. Weve been playing that way for awhile, weve had to play that sort of playoff hockey style to have an opportunity to get into the playoffs. Weve been playing that way and playing well, and I dont see that changing.
Clowe was asked if he expects to be targeted at all after his infamous play from the bench on Thursday, when he illegally broke up a Kings rush up the ice.
I doubt it. If I get targeted, Im more than willing and ready, he said.
McLellan is simply hoping that his club doesnt let its guard down now that its already in the postseason.
The concern of our staff is that we take a collective sigh of relief as a team and we let our guard down, he said. Thats not what were here for. Weve got to play and weve got to play hard. Our game tonight sets us up for whatever adventure we have going forward is. We want to play hard and want to play well.
Odds and ends: The Kings remain without winger Jeff Carter, who has an ankle injury. Antti Niemi will face Jonathan Quick in net. Anze Kopitar had three assits on Thursday, and leads the Kings in scoring with 76 points (25g, 51a). Ryane Clowe and Joe Thornton each had Gordie Howe hat tricks against the Kings on Thursday.