Havlat improving as playoffs near?
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SAN JOSE – One player whose name has been conspicuously absent from the score sheet, throughout much of the season and even during the Sharks’ recent run of success, has been winger Marty Havlat.

That changed on Thursday against Minnesota in a 6-1 Sharks rout of the Wild at HP Pavilion. Havlat had two goals and an assist, and although his first goal came on a lucky deflection by an opponent and the other on a brilliant setup by Logan Couture, Havlat admitted it felt good to finally produce.

The winger had just two points in his last 11 games, both in a previous match against Minnesota on April 3.

“It’s nice, but it’s four or five games left in the regular season, so I was just trying to get to the playoffs. Hopefully, this win is going to help us.”

Ah, the playoffs. The Sharks were already a virtual lock to make it to the postseason, and after putting a beat down on Minnesota, they now have their sights set on home ice in the first round despite not having officially clinched a spot yet. San Jose and Los Angeles continue to be deadlocked in points, with the Kings owning the tiebreaker.

Havlat has contributed in the postseason in each of his last three appearances. He has 31 points in his last 31 playoff games, and scored the overtime goal in Game 1 against St. Louis last season for the Sharks – their only victory before losing four in a row to the Blues.

Havlat is a man of few words, often preferring to talk about the team rather than himself. Could he use Thursday’s performance as a springboard for the postseason?

“I’m focusing game-by-game, and trying to do the little things right and get ready,” Havlat said.

His night wouldn’t have happened without Couture, who brilliantly set up Havlat for a second period goal by getting in the way of a Niklas Backstrom rim around the end boards and then finding Havlat alone in the slot. In the third, when the Sharks were already leading 5-1, Havlat adroitly played the puck to himself off of the back of the net and fed Couture for a perfect one-time blast to put the exclamation point on San Jose’s most convincing victory of the season.

Couture’s four-point night (2g, 2a) was a new career high, and he earned high praise from his head coach after the game.

“The way he’s been playing lately, he’s driving our bus right now,” Todd McLellan said. “He’s the head guy and he’s making it happen, and we’re happy for him.”

Even more impressive is that the Couture-Havlat-Patrick Marleau line was matched up against Minnesota’s top line of Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu and Charlie Coyle. The Sharks’ trio combined for nine points (including one power play goal by Couture, set up by Marleau), and each of those players was a +3. Parise, Koivu and Coyle were scoreless and each left San Jose with a -3 rating.

In other words, the Sharks’ newfound shutdown line dominated Minnesota’s biggest scoring line in every facet of the game, including faceoffs, where Couture was 11-for-16 (69 percent).

“The last 10 games or so we’ve been matched up against the top line, so it’s a challenge every night, and coming to the rink, we’re excited to do it,” Couture said. “To have a point night like this is always nice.”

The Sharks continue to have a balanced attack, too. They got a pair of goals in the third period from Raffi Torres and Joe Pavelski just 22 seconds apart to put the game away.

Torres’ goal was his first since he was acquired at the trade deadline on April 3.

“It feels good. We had a great team game tonight from the goaltender right out to the forwards,” Torres said. “It’s nice to contribute, and like I’ve said in previous interviews, you don’t really feel part of it until you get some numbers and put one into the back of the net. Tonight was a good night.”

McLellan said: “Our team looks faster and is playing faster, and [Torres is] a big part of it. That line, back-to-back goals real quick, basically to put the nail in the coffin. Raffi was a big part of it with his tempo.”

The result is a team that’s firing on all cylinders as the playoffs draw nearer.

Couture said: “We’re going in the right direction right now.”

That could finally include Havlat, too.