Saturday night's season finale at St. Louis meant absolutely nothing to the Blackhawks, but it meant an awful lot to the Blues, who were fighting for the fourth seed in the Western Conference and home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
So the fifth-place Kings and sixth-place Sharks -- both of which entered Saturday within striking distance of fourth -- couldn't have been thrilled to see Hawks coach Joel Quenneville leave nearly all of his top players in Chicago, or start a goaltender, Carter Hutton, making his NHL debut.
Too bad, Quenneville said.
"We're worried about our own business," Quenneville said before the game. "And I think we've got to give some credit to the lineup that's playing tonight. Hopefully they surprise everybody."
Among those Quenneville left home were Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Brandon Saad, Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Viktor Stalberg and Marcus Kruger. Among those inserted into the lineup were AHL scoring champion Brandon Pirri, Jeremy Morin, Jimmy Hayes, Drew LeBlanc, Ben Smith, Ryan Stanton, Shawn LaLonde and Adam Clendening.
The Sharks didn't complain.
"They've earned the right to do whatever they want to do with their team," Sharks coach Todd McLellan told the San Jose Mercury News.
Added Sharks defenseman Brad Stuart: "You can't control that kind of stuff. If we were in that same position, we might be doing the same thing."
Quenneville said the decision was made because of timing -- with the Hawks at the end of a busy stretch that included a four-day Western Canada trip and six games in nine days -- and not to protect his top players from the physical, antagonizing play of the Blues. In the teams' last meeting, at the Scottrade Center on April 14, Blues center David Backes was all over Toews throughout the game, trying to goad him into a fight and then actually sending him to the dressing room briefly with a knee injury.
Quenneville expected a spirited effort from the IceHog-laden lineup, as the young players -- all of whom have played with the Hawks, other than Hutton and Stanton -- surely looked at the game as a one-game audition both for next season, and for the playoffs should injuries occur and replacements be necessary.
"It's a great opportunity," Quenneville said. "Some of these guys, they deserve to play. It's not like they're not familiar with how we play. It's a chance to see them, as well. As we go along here, guys can show us what they can do, because they're not that far away from helping us."