STAPLES CENTER — Going into their ninth consecutive Stanley Cup playoffs, the San Jose Sharks could have seeded as high as fourth and clinched home ice, but instead lost two straight and dropped to sixth.
They forfeited fifth seed to their rivals, the Los Angeles Kings with a 3-2 loss in the season finale, Saturday night.
Round one against the third seeded Vancouver Canucks is a rematch from the 2011 Western Conference Finals when they eliminated the Sharks in five games. That’s something still fresh on the mind of Sharks head coach Todd McLellan.
Sharks coach Todd McLellan
“I don’t know what you want me to say, jump up and down…But at least now we can start working…we have a rivalry that exists with them, had a series in the past where we were unsuccessful. They’re a talented, talented group of players up there with two very good goaltenders. We’ll have our hands full.”
The St. Louis Blues won their game earlier in the evening against the Chicago Blackhawks, killing both the Sharks’ and Kings’ hopes of snatching the fourth spot. McLellan acknowledged that news changed the team’s approach going on the ice in Los Angeles to trying to get through the finish line and get ready for the playoffs:
“The intensity of the game wasn’t quite where it probably would’ve been had one of these two teams had that opportunity to clinch home ice. After that, I thought it was a fairly evenly played game. They would have the momentum then we would take it back a little bit.”
A scoreless first period and unusually hushed sold-out crowd mirrored that state of mind.
The second period got off to a much more energized start :48 seconds in with a Kings goal by Kyle Clifford. His hard wrister from the back of the left circle was saved but the puck rebounded high up above the net. Clifford skated to the net and poked in the loose puck for a 1-0 Los Angeles lead.
Logan Couture answered back for the Sharks seconds later with a goal of his own at 1:37, skating his way through two Kings defenders and shot the puck in short side for his 21st of the season.
Los Angeles took a 2-1 advantage over San Jose again with Slava Voynov’s shot from the point, inadvertently deflecting off the stick of James Sheppard in the slot and past goaltender Antti Niemi at 5:31. Niemi said he bounced a couple pucks a little bit in the first but felt pretty good after some saves. He got praise from Captain Joe Thornton:
“He’s been great. He’s the reason we’re in the postseason. When you have a great goaltender like that you can ride him a long time.”
With another Kings goal by Justin Williams right in front of Niemi at 12:00 in the final period, it looked like they had secured the fifth seed. TJ Galiardi scored on a nice feed from Joe Pavelski at 17:34 to make it 3-2, but time ran out for Team Teal to make a comeback.
Couture believes it will be tough going to Vancouver after back-to-back losses to end the season.
But McLellan liked the big picture in the Sharks’ 25-15-7 regular season finish. He said:
“We closed out the season well. I don’t look at just the last two games … we played very well down the stretch against really big teams.”
Odd that the coach felt that way since the Sharks would have clinched the fourth seed with two wins to close out the season. That was their goal after being Dallas. Instead, by dropping those final two games, they fell to sixth and have a tough challenge ahead.
The Sharks won two of four games in the season series against the Kings, who begin defense of their 2012 Stanley Cup title by taking on the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference Quarterfinals.
Meanwhile the Sharks are still in search their first championship. During the regular season, the Sharks swept the season series against the Canucks 3-0. Two of those games were played in San Jose.
Vancouver, the Northwest Division champion, has played better of late and have a lot of talent. Niemi said::
“It’s going to be a big challenge for us. We lost to them two years ago and I think they got lucky, a few lucky goals so hopefully we get a few lucky bounces this time.”
Couture, himself Canadian, said he isn’t worried about the circus atmosphere that will surely greet the visitors next week:
“It’s hockey in Canada. You expect it so it’ll get us going, or myself going.”
The Sharks are 65-48-7-6 all-time vs. Los Angeles and neither team has ever swept the season series … San Jose’s ninth consecutive season in the playoffs is the second longest current streak in the NHL, only Detroit has a better record … The Sharks have made it into the playoffs 14 of the last 15 years, missing only the 2002-03 season. … The only penalty of the game was Andrew Desjardins tripping minor at 5:31 in the third period.