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San Jose Sharks clinch Stanley Cup playoffs in shootout loss to Calgary Flames

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The San Jose Sharks achieved the primary goal of the 2013-14 NHL season by making the Stanley Cup playoffs Monday, March 24. Their primary goal of the night (winning) was derailed by the host Calgary Flames in a shootout thanks to a little more from the pictured stars of the game.

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After the Phoenix Coyotes lost to the New York Rangers in overtime, one point was all the Sharks was needed to secure third place in the Pacific Division. The new format gives any team in the top three spots in its division a berth in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

By not winning, San Jose moves a few pips further behind the Anaheim Ducks for the top point percentage in the Pacific Division. They are two points back but have two games in hand—even the average NHL team earns 1.1 points per game—and will own the first tiebreaker.

Winning the Pacific Division means home-ice advantage throughout the first two rounds of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. Being two games behind the St. Louis Blues for the Western Conference lead makes the third round less likely, but either the Ducks or the Sharks are likely to get home-ice advantage against anyone else that could emerge from the Central Division.

Perhaps more importantly, the Pacific Division's second-place team will have to play the Los Angeles Kings. Aside from their recently-acquired playoff pedigree, they take a lot out of any team in a seven-game series.

Having it go to overtime will have an effect in San Jose's next game at the Edmonton Oilers. Not winning makes it worse.

It was not for a lack of effort. The Sharks had more shots (34-27) and attempts (69-48) yet almost as many blocks (14-17 is still a better ratio to shots allowed and higher percentage of total attempts). They took better care of the puck, with the Flames having one more takeaway but 10 more giveaways.

That is not to say this game was like Saturday's against the Washington Capitals. San Jose deserved this result for losing more draws than the worst faceoff team in the NHL and allowing another goalie with a weak resume contain potential scorers that allowed Karri Ramo to see every shot.

Both goals were scored in the final two minutes of the first two periods.

Dan Boyle advanced the puck to Matt Nieto, whose shot hit James Sheppard in the back before the hot forward (last 15 games: 3G, 8A, +9) reaped the rewards of going to net with an uncontested shot at the weak-side opening with exactly two minutes left. Calgary responded when Tyler Wotherspoon attacked the deep wing and sent a great cross-ice feed for Joe Colborne to roof past Alex Stalock's stacked pads.

The Sharks held a 10-5 edge in shots in the third period, but neither team scored. Both teams had two overtime shots and failed in their first two shootout attempts before Mike Cammalleri became the first NHL player to ever score a shootout goal against Alex Stalock. Sheppard could not get his attempt past Ramo and the Flames skated away with the extra point.

San Jose now has a 26-5-5 home record and 103 points is second-most in the NHL. It may not help for playoff positioning, but having two fewer games remaining than Anaheim could well be helpful if the teams met in the second-round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Antti Niemi will certainly be on the ice for the Sharks Tuesday, but Logan Couture might not be. After blocking three shots in under eight minutes of first-period ice time, he played just one shift.

San Jose has to close the book on this and find the energy to earn points in Edmonton Tuesday. A loss coupled with an Anaheim win could cripple efforts to take the Pacific Division with so few games remaining in the 2013-14 NHL season.

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