Sharks solidify playoff chances with huge win
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PHOENIX – In a span of just over seven minutes, the Sharks managed to solidify their playoff chances and all but end the season of one of their division rivals.

Logan Couture, Tommy Wingels and Joe Pavelski scored goals just seven minutes and 11 seconds apart in the second period of a 4-0 Sharks win at Jobing.com Arena on Monday night. The Sharks are virtually assured of a playoff spot at this point, while Phoenix’s already slim chances to make it to the postseason may have vanished in the regulation loss.

It was a dominant middle frame for the road team, which managed four of a possible eight points on its four-game trip. The Sharks finished with 24 shots on goal to Phoenix’s seven in the second period after a scoreless first, and cruised to a rare easy victory.

[Kurz's Instant Replay: Sharks 4, Coyotes 0]

What led to the takeover?

“We just got pucks behind them and forechecked,” Couture said. “When we forecheck and roll all four lines, we’re a tough team to beat. When we’re fast and we’re throwing pucks to the net…I don’t know how many shots we got in the second, but it sure seemed like we had a ton.”

Todd McLellan said: “In the first period we came down and created some good looks but never wanted to shoot. In the second period, we decided we were going to forecheck, throw pucks at the net, get it back and use our size. It worked for us.”

Antti Niemi’s fourth shutout of the season in his 20th straight start was also notable, although he had plenty of help from his teammates. The Sharks surrendered 35 shots on goal, including 16 in the third period, but Phoenix didn’t have as many scoring chances as that total might suggest. San Jose finished with 41.

“They shot a lot in the third, but I think we were able to keep them out of from in front of the net,” Niemi said. “They were shooting lots of pucks from the corners, too.”

McLellan gave his goalie a little more credit.

“I thought they were dumping a lot of pucks onto him, so those are shots on goal, but he did have to make some real good saves at certain times,” he said.

Although he finished with just one assist, Raffi Torres, who was skating for the Coyotes less than two weeks ago, played a big role in putting what might have been the final nail in the coffin of Phoenix’s season. He leveled Keith Yandle seconds after the opening faceoff, and set up Pavelski for the Sharks’ third goal.

He looks to have found a home on the third line wing, and was flying around the ice all night. He drew an interference minor on Kyle Chipchura in the second period, when the Phoenix forward pushed him into Jason LaBarbera.

It was probably his best game since he was acquired by the Sharks on the April 3 trade deadline.

“I’ll let you guys be the judge of that. I feel like I’ve played pretty solid most of the games,” Torres said.

As for the hit on Yandle: “It’s a guy I just played with two weeks ago, but I’m at a point where I go out and play hard. It’s just a body check. I wanted to get the legs going, and get the momentum.”

Pavelski seems to enjoy playing with his new linemate.

“He established his game pretty early,” said Pavelski, who scored his 13th goal. “He’s simple, and you know what you’re going to get from him. He brings a lot of energy, and skates so well. We’re finding each other a little bit more, and it seems like we have more chances as we get more and more comfortable.”

The Sharks will get the opportunity to leap over the Kings for fourth place in the West when they play on Tuesday night at The Tank. Los Angeles has 52 points to the Sharks’ 51, and both teams have six games remaining.

Wins on the road have been hard to come by for San Jose, so a 2-2-0 record should be considered a modest achievement, and a small step in the right direction as the playoffs approach.

“Getting two wins on the road is pretty good, especially coming into the last road game with only one win, getting a second is huge for us,” Niemi said. “It’s not going to be easy at home, tomorrow especially, with the back-to-back.”

Couture said: “We’ve got a big game tomorrow night against LA that I know we’re all looking forward to, so it was good to win this one.”

The Sharks are 14-1-5 at home, and still have a chance at capturing home ice in the first round. To do that, they’ll more than likely have to win both remaining games against Los Angeles, whom they end the season with at Staples Center on April 27. The Kings did not play on Monday, so they should be well rested for Tuesday’s showdown.

“Get on the plane, get home and get some rest, because we’ll have a tough one tomorrow,” McLellan said.