When the St. Louis Blues were shutout by their former Central Division-rival Detroit Red Wings in a Sunday matinee, the Western Conference was set. Both wild card teams in the Eastern Conference were won by the two teams that shifted in the realignment.
The last game that mattered in their new conference was over before 3:00 p.m. PDT Sunday. A shootout win gave the Tampa Bay Lightning home-ice advantage in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
San Jose had already finished second in the Pacific Division before the game and secured the fourth seed in the Western Conference by earning even one point. The game mattered little other than to get Tomas Hertl (two shots in four attempts with a block and team-leading six hits in 15:40 ice time) and Antti Niemi (30 saves in 32 shots for a .938 save percentage with one giveaway) work back from very different issues.
In reality, it helped the entire team work out several issues. The way the Sharks approached those last two games where even fourth or fifth barely hung in the balance speaks of their mindset.
These were live practices against very good teams. They will help San Jose be ready for the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Colorado Avalanche had plenty on the line Friday. That loss did not keep them from winning the Central Division, but did make reaching the top spot in the Western Conference impossible no matter what happens in their season finale against the Pacific Division champion Anaheim Ducks.
San Jose was better playing fresh than Colorado was on the second of back-to-back nights. Now the skate was on the other foot for the game the next night in Phoenix.
The Coyotes were out of the Stanley Cup playoff race, but are a proud and fundamentally sound Pacific Division rival. The Sharks were the weary road team in this game, but had all the jump they needed.
On a power play in the first four minutes, Joe Pavelski got his 40th goal of the 2013-14 NHL season. He was fed off the rush by Brent Burns, who brought the puck into the zone along the right-wing boards. After gathering the puck in, he reminded everyone it was Mark Visentin's career debut by snapping it home from a bad angle to become the fourth Shark all-time to reach 40 goals.
With the secondary assist, Dan Boyle has at least one point in eight of his last 10 games but is minus-3 in that stretch. That goes along with the resurgent power play—when points do not benefit the plus-minus rating—that had nonetheless been scoreless in three games before cashing in early.
Pavelski was not done. Just before the midpoint of the first period, he got the puck from Matt Irwin on a feed to the left wing and blasted home the one-timer goal just before Visentin could slide across to the post. Joe Thornton got his 65th assist of the 2013-14 NHL season on the play, finishing behind only Sidney Crosby (68).
Just past the midpoint of the second, Phoenix finally got on board. After a minute of sustained pressure in the attack zone on either side of a faceoff, Martin Erat scooped up the puck along the boards and got it to Radim Vrbata, who worked his way toward the slot and fed Mike Ribeiro on the other wing.
That score stood up through intermission, but Logan Couture needed just 13 seconds of the third period to change that. He was rewarded for helping dig out a puck behind the goal line when he redirected a Boyle feed in from the front of the crease.
However, the two-goal lead lasted just 31 seconds. Brandon McMillan won a puck battle in the corner and Kyle Chipchura poked the puck into clear where Shane Doan put home a quick shot before Niemi could set.
On a breakaway late in the game, Niemi shut down the Coyote captain to preserve the lead. He made a couple other very good saves throughout the game, and Todd McLellan seemed to be planning on using him to start the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs in the post-game broadcast without making any commitment.
Phoenix had one more faceoff win but lost that with an extra giveaway, fell short in the takeaway battle 6-5 but registered one more hit. The hosts still managed to generate 17 more shot attempts, but did not get any more on net in part because San Jose blocked six more.
Ultimately, the game amounted to a live scrimmage but was entertaining, with a fair amount of attacking and counterattacking. Many of the top players got less ice time than usual, but there was less defensive responsibility than McLellan wants to see going into the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs Thursday...giving him just the thing to work on to keep the players sharp.
The Coyotes had already secured fourth place in the Pacific Division before the game. They beat the Dallas Stars in their 2013-14 NHL season finale to finish two points back of them for the last Western Conference wild card spot.
The first star of the game was obvious, but it got a little tricky to choose between several good-not-great performances for the rest of Examiner.com's three stars of the game...