While a loss in their most recent game may have been the wake-up call the San Jose Sharks needed, it wasn't one the Dallas Stars wanted.
|Philippe Boucher (right) congratulates Mike Modano on becoming the top American-born scorer back in November. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
With both clubs already locked into their playoff seeds, it seems the Stars are the ones more desperate for an improved performance Sunday as they face a Sharks team coming off its first regulation loss in more than six weeks.
This game on the final day of the regular season is meaningless to the playoff race, with San Jose (49-22-10) having clinched the league's second-best record behind Detroit and Dallas (44-30-7) having wrapped up fifth place in the Western Conference. However, the Stars have been stumbling down the stretch and would like a momentum boost going into their first-round playoff series against Anaheim.
"We know we have to play better and address some of the stuff going on in our game," defenseman Philippe Boucher told the team's official Web site after Friday's 4-2 loss to Phoenix dropped Dallas to 3-8-2 since March began.
"With that being said, it's nowhere near what we're going to show our fans come playoff time."
San Jose's fans hope little changes in the postseason from how their team has played in recent weeks en route to the Pacific Division title. The Sharks had gone 20 consecutive games without losing in regulation (18-0-2) before falling 4-2 at Los Angeles on Thursday.
"It's probably good that it happened that we lose a game before the playoffs. Sometimes you just need to refocus," goaltender Evgeni Nabokov said after San Jose's first regulation loss since Feb. 20 at New Jersey. "We need to get back on track and get going again."
While the Sharks try to become the first post-1980 expansion team with back-to-back 50-win seasons, the Stars hope to avoid closing the regular season with their longest home losing streak in nearly 30 years.
Dallas has dropped four in a row at American Airlines Center, matching its most consecutive home losses since Dec. 14-28, 2001. A loss Sunday would saddle the Stars with their longest home losing streak since a five-game skid from Nov. 15-29, 1978.
Special teams continue to be a big key for Dallas. In their only two victories since March 10, the Stars are 5-for-12 on the power play while killing off all seven of their opponents' chances. In its last five defeats, Dallas has given up seven power-play goals while going 2-for-23 with the man advantage.
"We're not real happy with our effort," Stars captain Brenden Morrow said after Friday's home loss to a Phoenix team which had lost three straight and eight of nine.
"It's Game 81, we'd better find something else in the tank because that wasn't good tonight. This was lackluster."
Dallas, though, might have trouble getting back on track Sunday with some top players likely to sit out. Defenseman Sergei Zubov underwent hernia surgery this week and his status for the playoffs remains unclear. Centers Mike Ribeiro (flu) and Brad Richards (soreness) could both miss a third consecutive game.
San Jose appears fairly healthy, particularly Joe Thornton. The star center, who has 96 points and is likely to finish among the league's top five in that category, has nine goals in his last seven games and is one shy of his first 30-goal season since 2002-03.
Thornton's goal 36 seconds into Thursday's game marked the league-high 55th time the Sharks have scored first, though it was just their 12th regulation loss when they do.
"You want to be confident going into the playoffs, but you don't want to be overconfident and think you're invincible," San Jose forward Mike Grier said. "Tonight kind of showed that if you let your guard down, even for a little bit, the game's not going to go your way."