SAN JOSE – When the Sharks were slogging their way through a stretch of just three regulation wins in 23 games from early February until late March, the team that began the season with seven straight victories seemed like a far-away memory.
Surely that club, which outscored the opposition 27-12 in jumping out to a 7-0-0 record, was just a mirage, and a quirky result of the NHL starting its season without any exhibition games and a weeklong training camp.
But some how, some way, the Sharks equaled that winning streak with another victory on Friday night against Calgary at HP Pavilion, 2-1. San Jose has climbed all the way to fourth place in the Western Conference, and if the playoffs started today, would have home ice in the first round.
The current run is more impressive than what happened over those 11 days in January, too.
Antti Niemi said: “Maybe we got some wins early because every team wasn’t that ready to play. I think the way we work right now is very good.”
“The start of the season our power play was really hot, but we had two, three or four guys – Patty, in particular – putting the puck in the net,” Dan Boyle said, referring to Patrick Marleau’s historic nine goals in the first five games. “This time around, I think we’re just balanced. We’re getting scoring from everybody, so I think that’s the difference.”
While that’s been the case over the last little while as the Sharks seemed to have found a four-line offensive attack, it was regulars Boyle and Joe Pavelski who scored third period goals to allow San Jose to improve to a remarkable 14-1-4 at HP Pavilion, and continue its climb up the Western Conference ladder. Boyle’s goal at 2:40 of the final frame put San Jose on the board to make it 1-1, while Pavelski flung in a loose puck with just 2:06 left on the clock for a thrilling comeback victory.
“We’re playing the type of hockey that allows us to win consistently. At the beginning of the year, scoring five or six goals a night, we looked like the Globetrotters for a while there in Edmonton,” Todd McLellan said, referring to the Sharks six goals in the first period against the Oilers in their second game.
“Everything was going our way, and we weren’t going to continue to play that way. I think we’re playing a better brand of game right now that sets us up for success.”
Sticking with the Globetrotters theme, the Flames are probably the closest thing to the NHL’s version of the Washington Generals. Calgary traded away two of its key players at the deadline in Jarome Iginla and Jay Bouwmeester, and was coming off of an 8-2 loss to the Oilers on Wednesday. Overall, the Flames had lost seven of their last nine and are one of the few NHL teams with no real shot of making it to the postseason.
In the Sharks’ six wins entering Friday night’s game, five had come against clubs that were above them in the standings at the time. The game against Calgary had letdown written all over it, particularly after the second period, when the Sharks were trailing 1-0. San Jose had a dominant first period that didn’t result in a goal, and its game got noticeably worse in the middle frame.
McLellan said: “We weren’t very pleased with basically the whole 20 minutes in the second. … We tried to cheat the game a little bit, and it wasn’t going to work that way. We talked about it, and I was happy the way we responded.”
“We decided in the second intermission to outwork them, and that’s what we did,” Niemi said.
Boyle’s goal set the tone for the rest of the period, and the Sharks ended up outshooting Calgary 16-6 in the third. They came in waves towards Kiprusoff, who may have been making his final career appearance at HP Pavilion as he reportedly ponders retirement.
They were rewarded with the lead when TJ Galiardi got the puck to the front of the net and Brent Burns created some havoc near the crease before Pavelski converted.
“It felt like it was coming,” Pavelski said. “Boyler gets a big goal for us to get us going, and get the crowd back into it. On the bench you felt the arena come alive, and our legs came alive a little bit more, too.”
There was still time left on the clock, though, after Pavelski’s goal. Niemi, who could have taken a nap in the crease during stretches in the first and third periods, stopped Mike Cammalleri and Curtis Glencross with time winding down, preserving the Sharks’ 20th win. Niemi has 19 of those wins, tying him for the league lead.
“They came really quick,” he said of the final two shots. “I think both were right side, pad saves. They were quick situations.”
Niemi has been the Sharks’ most consistent player all year, and started his 15th straight game and 24th of the last 25. That's quite the workload.
“The last two shots on goal were very dangerous six-on-five,” McLellan said. “Without him, we don’t get the opportunity to win. We’re riding him hard right now, and he seems to be responding very well.”
The Sharks will go for their eighth straight win on Sunday, something that was unimaginable as recently as two weeks ago. The road schedule resumes on Tuesday in Columbus.
Joe Thornton said: “It’s huge getting these home wins, and we’ve got one more Sunday. Hopefully we can finish off the streak.”
“We knew this homestand was going to be really crucial for us this year,” Logan Couture said. “We’ve done a good job with it so far.”