SAN JOSE -– After officially clinching a playoff spot early in the week, the Sharks expressed their desire to make a push for the Pacific Division title over the final two weeks of the regular season.
The effort and execution against arguably the worst team in the NHL on Thursday at home suggested otherwise.
A tremendously sloppy first period and a distinct lack of energy resulted in a 4-2 loss to the Canucks, who snapped a nine-game losing streak. Jannik Hansen’s third period marker on a two-on-one with 5:03 remaining in the third period was the key score, and only occurred after Joe Thornton and Brent Burns failed to connect on a simple cross-ice pass in the offensive zone.
San Jose wasn’t mathematically eliminated from winning the division, but it doesn’t take Will Hunting to deduce that the Kings and Ducks are probably too far out in front, while holding games in hand on the Sharks, too.
“We should be playing like we’re fighting for our lives, and we didn’t tonight,” Logan Couture said. “We made some mistakes that don’t work in the playoffs. We need to be better.”
Coach Pete DeBoer initially denied a suggestion that the Sharks’ were fatigued or complacent, saying he thought they got better as the game went on.
Still, human nature is what it is.
“Let's be honest. Everybody knows kind of where we're at, so that's the reality of the situation,” DeBoer said. “You can talk about it all you want. Of course everyone wants to win 10 in a row going into the playoffs. But, I'm confident our group will have its game in the right place when that starts."
The first period was the Sharks’ worst, and a pair of misplays by Joonas Donskoi helped Vancouver – which had scored just eight goals during its nine-game losing streak – jump out to a 2-0 lead.
Donskoi tried playing a pass from Paul Martin off of his skate in the neutral zone and lost control, leading to Daniel Sedin’s score just 1:09 into the game. Later, he was too casual in playing a puck while gliding back towards the defensive zone, and a hard-charging Bo Horvat stripped him before slipping it through Martin Jones at 13:55.
“Everybody can see it was two big mistakes personally, and we lost the game tonight with those,” Donskoi said.
DeBoer said: "As a group, we were reckless in the early part of the game. They made us pay on a couple of them. In this league it doesn't matter who you're playing, if you spot somebody two goals it's going to be a long night."
The Sharks fought back, though, cutting into the Canucks’ lead on Patrick Marleau’s second period power play goal and tying it midway through the third on Couture’s fourth score in his last two games.
Considering just how bad it had been going lately for the Canucks, the game was there for the taking for the Sharks had they avoided another egregious error.
They didn't, as Thornton’s pass to Burns was a little too hot to handle and Vancouver raced ahead for the game-winner by Hansen.
“It was just a tough bounce off the wall,” Burns said. “Trying to get a seam play there and it just kinda hit the boards and jumped out.”
Essentially locked into third place in the division now, the Sharks have four games left to get everything back in order for Game 1. Whether they push hard or start to rest some of their veteran guys is unknown, but just about all of them will have to be sharper and more focused if they want to be firing on all cylinders when either the Ducks or Kings are on the other side.
“We can definitely crank it up a little bit,” Joe Pavelski said. “It’s nice to be locked up, but we’re still trying to improve our game, we’re trying to come in rolling. We have the group in here that we believe in. We’ll keep ramping it up here and be ready.”