SAN JOSE -- The Sharks say they're plenty motivated to avoid any emotional letdown when they face the Washington Capitals on Saturday night after the high-profile win over the Anaheim Ducks 48 hours earlier that boosted them into first place in the Pacific Division.

"Let's face it," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said, "if we don't perform well tonight and don't live up to our end of the bargain, whatever we did two days ago doesn't matter anymore."

The Sharks could clinch their 2014 playoff spot as early as Saturday night and it will be their 10th in a row -- a streak second only to the Detroit Red Wings in the NHL.

Players reflected on that after the morning skate.

"It builds up pride in that commitment the team has," Patrick Marleau said. "When new players come in they know what's expected of them. That bar is set -- you're a team that's always in the playoffs and you have to bring it every night and do the things that it takes to be a winning team to get in the playoffs."

Captain Joe Thornton reflected on the past, but looked forward when it came to the decade of playoff presence that goes back to 2003-04,

"It's a model of consistency," Thornton said. "Ownership and management definitely deserve a pat on the back, but we've got bigger and better things we want to accomplish here this year. It's just not about tonight, but a couple months down the road."


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Antti Niemi will be in goal for the Sharks who are facing a Washington team battling for an Eastern Conference playoff spot. Highly motivated, the Capitals have had more success on their California trip than most teams, beating the Anaheim Ducks and losing in overtime to the Los Angeles Kings before coming to San Jose.

"We're in a position where we can't lose," said Washington superstar Alexander Ovechkin. "Lose and it can cost us the playoffs. This group of guys understands that."

Ovechkin leads the league with 46 goals, but the last five have come on a power play that is tied for best in the NHL with a 23.9 percent success rate. Ovechkin hasn't scored at even strength since Feb. 27.

The Sharks know the danger he represents though as Washington's lone goal in a 2-1 shootout loss to San Jose on Jan. 14 was by Ovechkin at even strength.

"Obviously he shoots the puck, and his ability to shoot the puck is uncanny," Thornton said. "He's just so powerful. He just bulldozes his way through things, and just a complete power forward."

For more on the Sharks, see David Pollak's Working the Corners blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/sharks. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/PollakOnSharks.