For a second straight game, the San Jose Sharks can claim the Presidents' Trophy by beating one of the NHL's worst teams. If they blow this chance like they did the first one, the Sharks will need help to claim home-ice advantage throughout the postseason and be lacking momentum as it begins.
San Jose hopes to avoid ending the best regular season in franchise history on a very sour note when it visits the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday.
It seemed very likely the Sharks (53-17-11) would become the first true West Coast team to claim the Presidents' Trophy following Tuesday's action, having won for the fifth time in six games to take a five-point lead over Boston for the most in the league. San Jose would clinch home ice for every playoff round with a win in either of its final two games versus Phoenix or Los Angeles - currently tied for 13th in the Western Conference.
However, the Sharks fell behind by two goals after the first period Thursday against the Coyotes in a 4-1 defeat, just their fifth regulation home loss of the season. With Boston winning that night, San Jose's lead for the league's best record is down to three points so if it fails to win Saturday, the Bruins can steal away the Presidents' Trophy by winning their final two games - against Buffalo and the New York Islanders.
Even with Thursday's defeat, San Jose clinched the best record in the West because of Detroit's shootout loss to Nashville.
"Players have worked hard and earned that opportunity to have home ice throughout the first three rounds, anyhow," coach Todd McLellan said. "Just right now, this effort early in the game stings a little. Maybe it's what we needed, we'll see how we respond Saturday."
McLellan now would like to see his team jell offensively with some key players back in the lineup after San Jose was held to one goal over the last two games.
Lower-body injuries caused captain Patrick Marleau to sit out the previous five games and high-scoring forward Ryane Clowe to miss 10 straight before both returned Thursday. That duo, however, combined for no points and a minus-5 rating.
"As the days go along and we get more practice, we'll really start hitting our passes and feeling better," Clowe said after playing for the first time since March 17. "Personally, I felt good. The timing was there and everything."
Clowe, though, is pointless in his last five games and Marleau has no points in his last four. The Sharks have failed to score more than three goals in eight straight.
They are likely to face Kings goalie Jon Quick, who has given up only one goal in three straight starts but has never faced San Jose.
Los Angeles (33-37-11) has scored just 16 goals in its last 11 games and has lost eight of them. The Kings, who will miss the playoffs for a sixth straight season, are 2-for-26 on the power play in their last nine.
The Sharks are 0-for-11 in their last two but are among the league leaders in power-play percentage at 23.7.
San Jose has won all five meetings this season while limiting Los Angeles to six goals and looks to sweep the season series for the first time. Evgeni Nabokov has won three of those games and is 9-3-1 with a 1.83 goals-against average in his last 13 games versus the Kings.
The Sharks have won eight of their last nine visits to Los Angeles.