By the end of the day on Sunday, the San Jose Sharks will know who their first opponent will be in the Western Conference Quarterfinals.
Will it be Phoenix? How about Los Angeles? Perhaps Nashville? Maybe Chicago?
Phoenix ended their regular season with a 3-1 loss to San Jose on Saturday while the Kings lost to Anaheim by the same score. St. Louis finished Nashville’s year with a 2-0 win. Chicago will be playing hosts to Detroit on Sunday.
While some members of the Sharks will be watching the nationally televised game from the United Center, one won’t be sitting in front of the flat screen.
“I’m going to relax with the wife and the baby and just have a day off,” Joe Thornton
said. “I don’t think we’re going to have too many days off in the next couple of months, so I’m just going to enjoy the day with the family.”
The Sharks have earned the right to enjoy a day off. The win over Phoenix secures them a second place finish in the Western Conference. They finished the season winning 23 of their last 32 games.
The big thing is finishing second in the conference. The Sharks are now guaranteed home ice advantage for at least the first two rounds. This factor is to San Jose’s advantage as they’ve won their last seven regular season games at HP Pavilion and 25 home games during the year.
“It’s important to get as high as you can,” Thornton said. “We all feel comfortable playing at home. We’ve had a good record here as of late, so it worked out pretty good. We’ve come a long way. We had to work hard to get to where we have been. It’s been quite a year. We’ve gone from 12th (in the conference) to second. We’ve still got a lot of work to do.”
On Jan. 13, the Sharks lost their sixth straight in a 5-2 decision to Edmonton. They were 21-19-5. Since then, San Jose went 27-6-4 to finish the year.
“Our goal was to end up as high as we could in the standings,” Coach Todd McLellan said, “and to grow as a team. I think we did that throughout the year.
McLellan also said that the team’s play late in the year allowed “us an opportunity to play on. That’s all we’ve accomplished to this point.” And based on the team’s start in 2010-11, the Sharks haven’t been under plenty of media scrutiny throughout the season. “I think there’s less talk and hype about our team,” McLellan said, “which will help us.”
SATURDAY AT THE RINK
Some of the postgame buzz around the Sharks locker room centered around the play of goaltender Antti Niemi
. He saved 35 of 36 shots, including 26 of 27 in the final two periods.
“Wow, was he good,” McLellan said. “When we made mistakes, he was there to make some tremendous saves. There’s not many nights on the bench where I turn to the coaches and go, ‘Wow.’ He did make some saves.”
“Did you see some of those saves?” Joe Pavelski
said. “They were unbelievable. He was good. He’s been a backstop for us. When his play has been really good, we’ve been good.”
Defenseman Ian White scored his second goal with the Sharks in as many nights. His slap shot from the right point at 7:11 of the second period was the game’s first goal and the game winner.
“I’m far from a goal scorer,” said White, who has 36 in 401 National Hockey League games. “You just keep shooting the puck and good things happen.”
The win was important for the Sharks. Not only did the victory snap a two-game losing streak, but the effort will give them positive momentum heading into the playoffs.
“If you reflect back on our last three games,” McLellan said, “this was the best we’ve played. This was a really good one for us to play in. A tight one, fast and the intensity was there. It was something we needed to experience this week so we can get ready for what lies ahead.”
…beats Detroit in regulation or overtime, San Jose faces Phoenix.
…beats Detroit in a shootout, San Jose meets Nashville.
…loses to Detroit in overtime or a shootout, San Jose takes on Chicago.
…loses to Detroit in regulation, San Jose will play Los Angeles.
FACTS AND FIGURES
McLellan won his 152nd game on Saturday. He tied an NHL record (Mike Keenan) for most wins within the first three years of a head coaching career…Pavelski’s second period power play goal gives him 20 for the season. San Jose is the only NHL team to have seven, 20-goal scorers who’ve scored all of their goals with the same team…Final leaders: Patrick Marleau
(points, 73); Marleau (goals, 37); Thornton (assists, 49); Jason Demers
(plus-19); Marleau, Pavelski and Dany Heatley (power play goals, 11); Marleau (game-winning goals, nine); Jamal Mayers (penalty minutes, 122).
HERE COME THE PLAYOFFS
Please come back to sjsharks.com for the playoff schedule, which will be released late Sunday. The Sharks will have Sunday off and will have practice on Monday. NOTE: practice sessions during the playoffs will be closed to the public.