SAN JOSE – It’s essentially a formality at this point, but the Sharks can officially clinch a playoff spot for the ninth straight season with a win or overtime/shootout loss against the Columbus Blue Jackets at home on Sunday evening (5 p.m., CSN California).
“As soon as you get into playoffs and clinch, you’re guaranteed an opportunity to win the Stanley Cup,” Patrick Marleau said. “At the start of the season, that’s everybody’s goal.”
The team held a brief meeting and video session at HP Pavilion on Sunday morning, and will be searching for its fourth straight victory. The Sharks are an impressive 11-2-1 in their last 14 games.
The Sharks will be facing a team in Columbus that has outscored them 10-2 this season, and gave them one of their two regulation losses in those last 14 games with a 4-0 win on April 9. On Feb. 11, the Blue Jackets took a 6-2 win over San Jose. Both games were at Nationwide Arena.
Marleau said: “They haven’t really seen our best game on the road. Being home, hopefully it will give us that little extra jump that we need. There’s a lot to play for still, and it’s going to be a playoff type atmosphere tonight.”
“Nothing changes,” Todd McLellan said. “It’s still [about] arriving in the playoffs, solidifying that position and worrying about everything else after. More importantly is the opponent we’re playing, and the lickings they’ve laid on us the last couple times in there. They’ve absolutely dominated our team in every aspect.”
Columbus is still fighting for a playoff spot, and sits in eighth place in the Western Conference. It is one point ahead of Detroit and two ahead of Dallas, but has played one more game than both of those clubs.
“They’re not going to be any more motivated than they are tonight,” McLellan said of Columbus. “They know what’s at stake, but our group hasn’t accomplished that little ‘x’ by our name, either. I would expect our group to be motivated, as well.”
The Sharks are an NHL-best 16-1-5 at home, and still have a chance to open the playoffs in front of their fans. In order to do that, they’ll have to capture more points than the Kings or Blues, since both of those clubs have already clinched the tiebreaker against San Jose by virtue of more regulation/overtime wins.
The Sharks and Kings are tied with 55 points, while St. Louis has 54. All three teams have four games remaining. The Kings host Dallas on Sunday, while the Blues are in Colorado.
Although lower seeded teams have had playoff success in recent years, including the 2012 champion Kings (eight seed) and 2010 finalist Philadelphia Flyers (seven seed), playing as many games in front of a friendly crowd is still important, according to Scott Gomez.
“You want to start at home,” Gomez said. “When it boils down to it, in a Game 7, I’ve been in both situations and it’s a lot easier on the nerves when you’re at home.
“Until they tell you you’re in, you keep going. But, I do believe in home ice advantage, and that’s what you work for all year.”
The Sharks will be without defenseman Jason Demers, who was hurt in the game against Minnesota on Thursday. Antti Niemi will start in net.