SAN JOSE, Calif. - Logan Couture may not know just how important his goal on his first career shootout attempt was for quite a while. He just knows he will enjoy it while he can.
Couture scored in the fifth round of the shootout to lead the San Jose Sharks to a 3-2 victory Saturday night over the Phoenix Coyotes that kept their hopes alive for the top seed in the Western Conference.
Couture, who has shuttled back and forth from the minors much of his rookie season, came through when called upon by coach Todd McLellan with the most important contribution of his career.
"I didn't expect to shoot with all the talent we have on this team," Couture said. "When they put me out there I was confident I was going to score. I'm glad I did score so it looked like he made the right decision."
After being unable to protect a 2-1 lead in the third period, the Sharks earned the crucial two points by winning the shootout. That gave them 113 points on the season, two more than Chicago for the most in the West. The Blackhawks have one game remaining and can clinch the top seed in the playoffs by winning at home Sunday against the Detroit Red Wings because they have won more games than San Jose.
If Chicago wins in regulation and Los Angeles earns at least one point at Colorado, the Sharks would open the playoffs against the Red Wings. They could also face Colorado, Los Angeles or Nashville depending on what happens on the final day of the season.
"We came into the season wanting to make sure we were in the playoffs," captain Rob Blake said. "We accomplished that and we gave ourselves a chance to be first in the West. We'll see what happens (Sunday). We've done that part. We know we're competing this week in the first round and we go from there."
After losing in the first round to Anaheim last season after having the best record in the regular season, the Sharks know what really counts starts next week.
The Coyotes are also waiting to find out who they will play in their first playoff appearance since 2002. They are locked into the fourth seed after setting franchise records this season for wins (50) and points (107). They could play Detroit, Nashville or Los Angeles.
McLellan said he almost used Couture earlier in the shootout before turning to him to start the fifth round. He stickhandled past Ilya Bryzgalov to score on the forehand and give the Sharks the lead.
"He's a shooter that Bryzgalov obviously wouldn't know," McLellan said. "We went with it. That's a lot of pressure for the young man. He's handled every bit of pressure that's been put on him since he's been here. He'll get a taste of more of it later on next week."
Evgeni Nabokov stopped three of five shots in the shootout, including Shane Doan in the final round, to earn his 44th win. That tied him with New Jersey's Martin Brodeur for the most in the league. The Devils have one game remaining.
Joe Pavelski and Ryane Clowe also scored in the shootout for San Jose. Lauri Korpikoski and Radim Vrbata converted for Phoenix.
The Coyotes tied the game early in the third period after Jason Demers and Devin Setoguchi struggled to clear the puck. Matthew Lombardi came up with it in the slot and beat Nabokov for his 19th goal less than two minutes into the period. Lee Stempniak also scored for Phoenix.
"It's a fine line," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. "You want to come out and make sure you don't lose anybody in a meaningless game, but at the same time you've still got to be competitive."
Patrick Marleau scored his 44th goal and Devin Setoguchi added his 20th for San Jose. Marleau's goal midway through the second came when he tipped in a shot by Dany Heatley. The tally was originally credited to Heatley, which would have been his 40th of the season and 300th in his career, but was changed after a video review.
NOTES: San Jose didn't commit a penalty. Phoenix had only two. ... Sharks D Niclas Wallin got the night off. ... Marleau was selected as the Sharks Player of the Year for the second straight season and record third time overall. Demers was picked as the team's top rookie. ... Jed Ortmeyer was San Jose's nominee for the Masterton Trophy awarded to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.