SAN JOSE -- Turnovers.

Yeah, that's an oversimplification. But it's pretty easy to make the case that the Sharks would have clinched a playoff spot Sunday if it weren't for two of them -- one by Brad Stuart, another by Joe Pavelski -- that led directly to two goals and a 4-3 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

(It's also an oversimplification, of course, to attach those turnovers to just two players; Scott Hannan seemed to have a shot at handling Stuart's outlet pass and it's easy to second-guess Justin Braun's decision to move the puck to Pavelski in the first place.)

Coach Todd McLellan looked at Sunday's problem as more than just turnovers.

"I don't think we brought a lot of energy to the game, I don't think we managed the puck very well and the game very well -- didn't win a lot of faceoffs early, extended shifts, got a little bit selfish, turned pucks over in some bad areas.

"We had plenty of offense. Offense was not the problem one bit tonight, not one bit. It was the defensive part and the puck-management, game management."

And he said he wasn't nearly as focused on clinching a playoff spot as everybody else appeared to be

"I go game first. I wasn't concerned about getting a point and putting an 'x' by our names. I was concerned about our game," McLellan said. "It's our game that will get us there or won't get us there. Forget about the clinch part. Don't even ask me when you come to the next game because we'll be in the same scenario."


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Then he went big picture.

"At this time of the year, teams are playing and getting ready to prepare for playoff hockey. There will be a team out there that figures it out and commits to playing this way from this point forward that's going to have a pretty good run.

"There'll be other teams that waver with it. They'll decide to do it one night and maybe not the next and they'll find themselves in a hole. The one team that decides to do it will go on a good run."

  • Joe Thornton ended up with fourth-line wings Andrew Desjardins and Adam Burish as his linemates in the third period, but McLellan said the move wasn't a reflection of Thornton's play. And the fact the captain had a respectable 18:31 ice time would appear to back that up.

    "Just a little shuffle of the lines, trying to get some people going, jolt some people," McLellan said. "It worked. Jumbo with Desi and Burr scored the second goal and I though it gave us some energy."

    So it wasn't about Thornton, who was all-but benched in the third period of San Jose's 4-0 loss to Columbus at Nationwide Arena on April 9?

    "No," McLellan said. "Our whole group was not playing well."

  • The Sharks were swept by the Blue Jackets, who won all three games between the teams. Why does San Jose have problems with Columbus?

    "They just compete hard," Thornton said. "I thought it was a good game, could have went either way. . . . They're just a good competitive team, fighting for their lives and they came to play last night. They just have our number for whatever reason. They just play real well against us.

    "We've been playing really good. You don't want to see it slip, but we came back and played in the third, a real hard 20 minutes. . . . It wasn't a 60-minute game, but I thought we played well enough to win."

    Said Logan Couture: "It was tough. We came back to tie it up and then we stopped getting pucks deep in their end. . . . Obviously to give up a goal late like that is tough. We had our chances. I don't know if we deserved to win the game, we didn't play our best. But it was good to fight back."

    Couture acknowledged it was even tougher to take because it prevented the Sharks from clinching a playoff spot.

    "We would obviously like to have gotten a point to get into the playoffs," he said. "But we go on from that. We get another opportunity to do that against Dallas coming in."

  • Couture said that he and Marty Havlat are developing some chemistry.

    "I think we're just feeding off each other, getting a little bit of chemistry," he said. "This is really the first time we've been together steadily for a little while. He's really skating now. He's fun to play with. He's so creative. I'm trying to read off him and he's reading well off me."

  • Andrew Desjardins scored a beauty to get the Sharks back into the game early in the third period, skating laterally across the goal mouth, watching Columbus defenseman Dalton Prout slide by, then patiently planting the puck in the net.

    "We're all good players here. It's just a natural kind of thing," said Desjardins, who has two goals for the season. "I guess it doesn't happen to often with me, but I was just fortunate it happened the way it did."

  • A turnover by Stuart contributed to the Columbus goal that put the Sharks in a 2-0 hole early in the second period.

    "I just need to make a better play," Stuart said. "I've got to be more aware of what's going on. My fault on that one. You make little turnovers at this point of the year and it's going to cost us. That's what happened to us."

    Was the fact he was playing with a new partner, Hannan, a factor?

    "No, I don't think so," Stuart said. "Those are easy plays to make and we have to make them, myself included."

    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.