Programming note: Coverage of Sharks-Kings begins at 7:00 on CSN California with Sharks Pregame Live, followed by NHL hockey at 7:30, and Sharks Postgame Live after the final horn.
LOS ANGELES – Right around the time the Sharks and Kings drop the puck on Saturday at Staples Center, both teams will have a good idea of just what they’re playing for.
If the St. Louis Blues lose in regulation to the Chicago Blackhawks in a game that starts at 5 p.m. PST, the winner of the Sharks-Kings game will get home ice in the first round. If the Blues win, the Sharks and Kings will be fighting over the five and six seeds.
If St. Louis loses in regulation and the Sharks beat the Kings in overtime or a shootout, the Sharks will host Los Angeles in the first two games of the first round.
“We’ll probably see these guys in the postseason sometime, you’d think, so you’d like to get home ice against them,” Joe Thornton said after an optional morning skate. “These two points are crucial, and we have to put [forth] our best effort tonight.”
The game becomes much less important if the Blues win, of course. St. Louis is hosting powerful Chicago, but since the Blackhawks have already clinched the President’s Trophy for having the league’s best record, they are reportedly resting a number of their stars. Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp will sit out. Carter Hutton will make his first NHL start in net.
That doesn’t bode well for the Sharks or the Kings, both of whom have impressive home records. San Jose finished with a 17-2-5 mark at HP Pavilion, while the Kings are 18-4-1.
“They’ve earned the right to do whatever they want to do with their team,” McLellan said of the Blackhawks.
If St. Louis wins, the Sharks will face either the Blues or the Canucks in the first round.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic joked: “I’d love to play three teams, Vancouver, L.A. or St. Louis. Oh, it that what it is? Funny how that works out. I’d love to play one of those teams.”
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The Sharks’ last visit to Staples Center was among the team’s worst performances, and after the game, McLellan was as annoyed as he’s been all season. The Sharks were thoroughly outclassed in a 5-2 loss on March 16 here, just two days after beating the Kings at HP Pavilion.
That frightful performance is the single biggest reason that the Sharks should want to play better as the regular season comes to a conclusion.
“There are a number of reasons for us to play well, and that would be the first,” McLellan said. “The last time in here we didn’t compete at all, and it was probably as disappointed as we were in our team with maybe two or three other instances.
“Secondary to that, this could become an eight game series if we happen to play them, and a win tonight would allow us to play at least four at home,” McLellan said.
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Scott Gomez will miss at least one more game, as he’s still feeling the effects of a big hit by Dallas’ Erik Cole earlier this week. Gomez skated in practice on Friday, but isn’t feeling up to par, according to McLellan.
“We’re going to keep him for one more day. He felt a little better yesterday, just average today. We will see how he is tomorrow, and go from there.”
That means James Sheppard will likely remain in the lineup, as part of a fourth line with Adam Burish and Andrew Desjardins.
Marty Havlat, who took a maintenance day on Friday, is good to go. Havlat has five points (3g, 2a) in his last four games.
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The Sharks have allowed one power play goal against in six of their last eight games, and are now sixth in the league in penalty killing (84.9 percent).
Conversely, they’ve scored a power play goal in six of the last eight, too.
Vlasic analyzed the recent special teams play.
“We’ve given up some penalty kill goals, but some [bad] breaks – a five-on-three, off a skate. I think we’re doing a good job,” he said.
“The power play is creating momentum, and in the playoffs you might get two or three opportunities, and I think the power play will get the job done. The penalty kill, we’re doing a great job. Guys are blocking shots, and committed to the PK. We’ll tune it up tonight, and be ready for playoffs.”