We are in very unfamiliar territory heading into the final game of the regular season. Typically a Sharks-Kings tilt would carry some kind of weight, especially one that’s nationally televised like tomorrow afternoon’s affair. It feels like the type of game that should determine playoff seeding, or home ice advantage if the two squads were on pace to meet each other in the first round.
Except San Jose is out of the playoffs for the first time in a decade, and will face a defending champion LA squad who was booted from a playoffs just this past Thursday by the Calgary Flames. Really, this game has no effect on anything, except to usher in what’ll probably be another long and arduous off-season for Team Teal.
Not so fast. There is actually something the Sharks can gain from notching a victory against the SoCal rival on Saturday, and that is peace of mind. A win over the Kings, while not counting for anything in the Western Conference standings, could help finally put the ill feelings about last year’s playoffs to rest.
Despite what many of the players said at the start of training camp last September, it became clear pretty early on that San Jose still had a chip on its shoulder after dropping that 3-0 series lead to LA last April. The Sharks have since faced off with the Kings four times, taking a split series headed into Saturday’s season finale. Two of those contests the Sharks won handily — the season opener down at Staples Center when they rained on LA’s championship celebration with a 4-0 shutout, and the pre-All-Star week game up at SAP Center when the Sharks owned the Kings 4-2 on Metallica Night. Both performances proved to be physical, showing that perhaps San Jose was still taking its frustrations from the previous season out on LA.
The other two games, however, displayed a side of this Sharks team that falls flat at crucial moments — a lackluster performance back on Dec. 27 that resulted in a 3-1 Kings victory, and of course the highly-anticipated Stadium Series game, which saw the Shark deflate after Marion Gaborik’s go-ahead goal in the third frame to hand San Jose the eventual 2-1 loss. After both losses, the hurt of losing to LA in Round 1 the previous season seemed to rear its ugly head.
When asked after Monday night’s loss to the Dallas Stars about not making the playoffs for the first time in a decade, Logan Couture punctuated his answer of disappointment with: “Especially with the way last year ended.” Clearly, the bad taste never fully left the Sharks’ mouths.
It’s anyone’s guess which incarnation of the Sharks will show up on Saturday. But if they want any chance at moving on from last season’s embarrassing playoff performance, at least slightly, they will have to bring their A-game.
Yet asking for a good showing from the Sharks seems a bit heavy-handed given how flat they have played down the stretch. They looked uninspired in the home-and-home with the Arizona Coyotes and downright terrible in the home finale against the Stars. While they eventually beat the Edmonton Oilers 3-1 on Thursday, it took upwards of 50 shots on goal before they got the puck past rookie netminder Laurent Brossoit. Saturday will call for a lot more physicality and grit, even without the motivation of a playoff berth, to boost the Sharks to a win.
A win over the Kings on Saturday won’t just be good for members of the team, but for the fan base as well. Couture and Joe Pavelski, just to name a couple, have been very vocal about the guilt they feel for disappointing the fans this season, both with a dismal home record and with the lack of a playoff bid. Fans might still be sore once this season is over, but one last crack at the Kings might help usher in this off-season in a bit better.
Who knows, Jonathan Quick might be having one of those rare off days on Saturday when the Sharks will have trouble scoring on him. But they’ll have to show up to play in the first place.