SAN JOSE – The path to the Pacific Division title may be permanently blocked, and the Sharks have no one but themselves to blame for it if they’re stuck facing the daunting Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the playoffs.
Yet another defeat at the hands of a team that is going to miss the postseason tournament, the Nashville Predators, put a huge dent in the Sharks’ hopes of overtaking Anaheim. The Ducks could put a five-point cushion between themselves and San Jose in time for Wednesday’s head-to-head tilt at Honda Center, if they win their games in hand on Sunday and Monday.
Against Nashville on Saturday, the Sharks looked like they were engaged in the first period, outshooting the Preds 9-5. In the second, though, they fell flat, and it cost them as the Predators scored the only three goals of the game.
“We didn't mind our first. Did some things, didn't get rewarded, but waded our way into the game,” Todd McLellan said. “The second was real disappointing. I can stand up here and use clichés or whatever, but we were emotionally not attached to the game in the second period.”
It’s a bit baffling why, as the Sharks players all must have known what was on the line. Not only would a Pacific Division crown give them an easier path in the playoffs, it would clinch home ice for at least two rounds. The Sharks are 28-7-5 at SAP Center this season with one game remaining, and were a perfect 5-0 here in the playoffs last year.
Now, they’ll probably have to win all three of their remaining regular season games, and hope that Anaheim takes a nosedive. That’s unlikely, as the Ducks face lowly Edmonton and almost equally poor Vancouver in its next two contests.
“It’s a missed opportunity,” Dan Boyle said.
Joe Thornton said: “We’re in a race, and we have to be better than that.”
The Sharks blamed themselves on Nashville's three goals. Patric Hornqvist was left alone in front of the net, and later got free in the slot on the first two markers, while Romas Josi sped past defenseman Jason Demers in generating the third. The three goals came during a 10-minute span in the second period.
“On the goals we got beat on, just details – body positioning, and details,” said Boyle, who was unable to prevent Nick Spaling’s pass to Hornqvist on Nashville’s second goal. “[It’s] something that 79 games in, we should have dialed in by now.”
McLellan agreed with his veteran defenseman.
“We're at Game 79, and the details and the system play, you should be able to do it in your sleep at this point,” said the coach.
Demers took responsibility for Josi’s goal, revealing that he kicked it past Antti Niemi, who wasn’t able to replicate his impressive performance against Los Angeles two nights prior.
To be fair to the goaltender, though, no one did, despite a better third period in which the Sharks threw 19 shots on goal. Carter Hutton stopped all 35 he saw for his first career shutout.
“I think after a game like L.A. (a 2-1 win), with all the excitement and enthusiasm we had, there’s always a worry that you’re going to have a letdown next game,” Demers said. “With all the leadership in our room, we’ve just got to get up for games like this.
“We didn’t. We’ve done that a lot this year.”
And, it will almost certainly end up costing them the division.