They said it had nothing to do with wanting to play one team or avoid another in the playoffs. They said it had everything to do with ending the regular season on a high note.
So after playing two listless periods, the Sharks earned a dramatic come-from-behind 3-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings at HP Pavilion on a goal by Dan Boyle with 1:02 left in overtime Saturday night to become the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference in a first-round playoff matchup with the St. Louis Blues.
Trailing 2-0 after two periods, it appeared the Sharks were headed for a rematch with the Vancouver Canucks, the team that eliminated them from the postseason a year ago.
"You want to go out with a win," said Boyle, whose overtime goal was his second of the night. "It's not like we wanted to play St. Louis versus Vancouver. I think either way you're in for an absolute battle. But with pride, you just want to win. You play to win. That's what we fought for."
The Sharks, who finished the season with 96 points, will be up against a Blues team that wound up as the No. 2 seed with 109 points and beat San Jose in all four regular season meetings.
That didn't appear to be a concern in a Sharks locker room filled with smiling players pleased with what they had just accomplished on the ice.
"Everything kind of gets thrown out the window once the postseason starts," captain Joe Thornton said. "It doesn't matter what your record was against a
The victory enabled the Sharks to finish the season with wins in seven of their last nine games, including the final four. But this one did not start out well as Los Angeles jumped out to a 2-0 lead on power play goals by Justin Williams and Mike Richards, both scoring while Marty Havlat was in the penalty box.
Meanwhile, the Sharks had squandered power play opportunities of their own, including a 1:23 stretch in the second period when they had a 5-on-3 advantage.
"Coach kind of came in and said you want to hit the postseason the right way," Thornton said of the change between the second and third periods. "We just wanted to go out and see what we had."
McLellan mixed things up a little bit, too, replacing goalie Antti Niemi with backup netminder Thomas Greiss -- something the coaching staff talked about doing depending on the outcome of the Phoenix game and where things stood against Los Angeles.
Thirty-five seconds into the final period, Boyle scored at even strength. And with Kings defenseman Matt Greene in the penalty box for boarding Tommy Wingels, Patrick Marleau scored his 30th of the season at 8:14 to force overtime.
In overtime, Boyle ended the game by driving the net, then getting off a backhand shot that beat Kings goalie Jonathan Quick.
"Honestly, I have the worst backhand in the league probably and I believe it went off their d-man's stick," said Boyle of the shot that appeared to deflect in off Los Angeles defenseman Rob Scuderi. "I got a little lucky there, but it was a big goal."
Boyle, for one, thinks the Sharks can treat the regular season in which they struggled as a learning experience.
"I think we learned, even as an old guy, you learn every year what works and what doesn't," he said. "We showed a lot of character the last four or five games, being behind in games and winning on the road. But it does start all over."
"It's a big challenge when you play San Jose," Sutter continued. "San Jose has a goaltender that's won a Stanley Cup. He quietly goes about his business and doesn't get much credit, only criticism. And we have one that gets a lot of credit."
Michal Handzus also returned to action after missing five games, replacing Torrey Mitchell, who suffered an undisclosed injury during Thursday night's game in Los Angeles.
McLellan said the fact his four lines have been playing well has kept Handzus out of the lineup but also gave him time to heal from an earlier injury.
For more on the Sharks, see David Pollak's Working the Corners blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/sharks.