Even a win to end the regular season wasn’t enough to help the San Jose Sharks open the playoffs at home after blowing a nine-point lead in the division in the final month.
Chris Tierney scored one goal and set up Mikkel Boedker for another in the second period to help the banged-up Sharks beat the Calgary Flames 3-1 in their regular-season finale Saturday night.
The defending Western Conference champion Sharks dropped nine of their final 12 games to fall from first to third place in the Pacific Division. They will need to pick up their play when they open the playoffs against either Edmonton or Anaheim in a few days.
“We’ve played long stretches of real good hockey this year,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “I think we’ll get healthy, get our guys back. They know the level that they have to play at when this time of year starts. I have no doubt we’ll be at that level.”
The Sharks will play the Pacific Division runner-up with Calgary taking on the winner in round one. Edmonton needs to beat Vancouver on Sunday and hope Anaheim loses in regulation at home to Los Angeles to win the division.
This game was played with little urgency as both teams opted to rest key players who are nursing injuries. San Jose sat captain Joe Pavelski, ending a streak of 495 consecutive games played, defenceman Justin Braun and forwards Joel Ward and Tomas Hertl. Those four players are all expected back for Game 1 of the playoffs.
But the status of the Sharks’ top two centres remains unknown with Joe Thornton (left knee) and Logan Couture (mouth) still listed as day to day.
Those absences gave many younger players a chance and Danny O’Regan capitalized with his first goal in three career games for insurance in the third period. Backup Aaron Dell made 19 saves for the win.
“We had a pretty good effort tonight,” Tierney said. “Obviously it’s not the same feeling as a playoff game out there, but I think we’ve got a veteran team and guys are going to be going hard in practice and really dialed in.”
Curtis Lazar scored his first goal of the season and Brian Elliott made 15 saves in the first two periods for Calgary.
The Flames sat captain Mark Giordano, defenceman Deryk Engelland and forward Mikael Backlund for the first time all season and also gave forward Kris Versteeg the night off.
“Now it’s time to go, we better be ready,” forward Matt Stajan said. “I think we could have been better tonight. But at the same time, you look forward to starting the playoffs. That’s what we play for. We’re going to be doing a lot of scouting and homework for the first round.”
Tierney’s line provided just enough offence for the Sharks in the second period as he tipped a nice pass from Jannik Hansen for the first goal and then won a board battle before setting up Boedker with a nifty feed late in the period to make in 2-0.
The Flames got on the board with 5.2 seconds left in the period when Matthew Tkachuk fed Lazar in front.