SAN JOSE -- If the Sharks get their way, Thursday night's game against the Los Angeles Kings won't be a preview of their first-round playoff matchup in two weeks.
After all, San Jose still has its eye on a first-place finish in the Pacific Division, and that would mean the Kings and Anaheim Ducks would try to knock each other senseless in the opening round.
But, trailing the Ducks with only five games left to play, the Sharks recognize that may be wishful thinking. So, yes, they do see a little added importance in getting a victory right now over their Southern California rivals.
"You want to go in feeling good about your chances," veteran defenseman Dan Boyle said. "You can't play a regular season game and match the intensity of a playoff game, but that being said, you want to feel good going into a playoff series. Obviously we want a good effort."
The Sharks are 1-2-1 against the Kings this season, their last encounter a 1-0 defeat at SAP Center on Jan. 27 that broke a streak of 15 games won by the home team. One of those was Game 7 of their second-round playoff series last May, and the Sharks point to that loss as motivation to secure home ice this season for as deep a run as possible.
Coach Todd McLellan said there was added importance to any game against a potential playoff opponent at this time of the season, but all that was secondary.
"More importantly, it's our team, our group polishing things up, getting our house in order, getting it where it needs to be," he said, "and tomorrow will be a good test for it."
The San Jose chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association nominated Stalock, for his yearlong recovery after complex surgery to regenerate a leg nerve severed by an opponent's skate during a scrum in front of his net while playing for the Worcester Sharks in February 2011.
Learning of his selection, Stalock was quick to thank the franchise for sticking with him throughout highly specialized medical procedure at the Mayo Clinic and a yearlong rehab program.
"Obviously it took some work and time and patience," Stalock, 26, said of his recovery, "but I don't think it would have been possible without having the right group around me. I've seen it before. Maybe an organization doesn't take care of a guy. Maybe they say good luck, shake hands and move on. It was the complete opposite here."
After easing back into the game with the Stockton Thunder of the ECHL, Stalock returned to Worcester for 38 last season, then earned a spot in San Jose as Antti Niemi's backup in September. This year he has set a franchise shutout streak record of 178:55 while compiling an 11-5-2 record.
Stalock now will compete with nominees from each franchise in voting by the league's writers. The only Shark to win the Masterton Trophy was forward Tony Granato in 1997 after overcoming a potentially career-ending brain injury.
"You can read into progress, certainly. You can see it," McLellan said. "It's just another step. Is he ready to play? No. I think that's real evident, as well. Every two weeks he seems to make another step and this is just a small one, and many left."
For more on the Sharks, see David Pollak's Working the Corners blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/sharks.
Los Angeles (45-26-6) at Sharks (48-20-9), 7:30 p.m., NBCSN