SAN JOSE – The Sharks have known for at least the past two weeks that a playoff spot was essentially assured, as they opened up an immense fissure between them and the rest of the feeble Pacific Division pack.
Still, it would be nice to make it official.
A win over the Blues at home on Tuesday – or a loss by the Coyotes to Edmonton – would assure the Sharks of their spot in the 16-team tournament, one year after a dysfunctional and disastrous season in which they finished 12th out of 14 in the Western Conference.
“After missing last year, it’s huge,” Joe Thornton said. “Get two points tonight and we’re in for sure. It’s a nice feeling.”
Logan Couture said: “There’s nothing like playoff hockey. To get back into that tournament of 16, it’s going to be fun.”
Still, don’t expect and overt displays of jubilance if San Jose manages to clinch. That’s just not how it works in the NHL.
“It’s not like baseball, we’re not going to be popping champagne or anything like that,” Thornton joked. “But, it would be real nice to lock it up tonight and get it out of the way.”
[MORNING SKATE: Sharks can clinch a playoff spot Tuesday night]
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The Sharks will be trying for a sweep of the Blues on Tuesday, beating them twice at Scottrade Center in February by a combined score of 9-4. With 93 points and wins in seven of their last nine, St. Louis is making a hard push for the Central Division title and the top seed overall in the Western Conference. The Blues trail the first place Stars by two points.
St. Louis is wrapping up a five-game road trip after splitting the first four, and has been in the Bay Area since flying in after a 3-0 win in Vancouver on Saturday night.
“They’re going to want to come in and beat us in our building, we’ve beat them twice in theirs,” Couture said. “It’s going to be challenging tonight. They’ve been here for a couple days, so they’re going to be rested. We expect them to bring their best.”
The Sharks, of course, still have the Kings in their sights. Los Angeles, five points ahead of San Jose with 10 to play, lost in Nashville in regulation on Monday and visits the Wild in the second of a back-to-back on Tuesday. Anaheim, one point ahead of the Sharks with a game in hand, is in Montreal.
“We’ve got 10 games left and you want to finish strong. It’s still a possibility, anything can happen in the last little bit here,” Thornton said. “We’ve still got to win some games and see what we can do.”
San Jose has won seven straight games against teams in playoff position headed into Tuesday night’s action.
Tuesday will also mark the first time the Sharks see the Blues’ Ryan Reaves after he hit Matt Tennyson from behind, giving the defenseman a concussion. Reaves was suspended three games for the hit, and was ejected from the game on Feb. 22.
Tennyson only recently resumed skating, and remains out indefinitely.
“Obviously we didn’t like the play, but he served his suspension,” Couture said. “First and foremost for us is a hockey game that we want to win. It’s nice to see Tenny back skating and trying to get healthy and back to playing hockey and being himself again. We’re focused on him and getting better.”
Coach Pete DeBoer said: “You always keep things like that in the back of your mind, but the points are the important thing right now. We’re in a race to track down a couple teams directly above us, and the importance of these games far outweighs any type of things that have gone on in the past.”
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DeBoer has liked what he’s seen from Chris Tierney since changing up his bottom two lines in response to Matt Nieto’s hand injury. For the past two games, Tierney has centered Joel Ward and Patrick Marleau on the third line. Previously, Tierney was the fourth line center.
“We moved it obviously out of necessity with the injuries, but he’s done a good job. He deserves to play there,” DeBoer said. “I think he was one of the guys in the role on the fourth line that I thought was really playing with a lot of offense and making some plays and doing some things.”
Tierney has no goals and one assist in his last 10 games, but feels the points will start to come soon.
“I’ve had a chance to score every game. It’s feeling good," he said. "When you’re playing with guys like Ward and Patty, I think you have a chance to score any shift when you get out there. It’s fun playing with those guys, and hopefully we can keep it up and score this game.”
One area of his game he’d like to improve is faceoffs. Tierney is just 8-for-29 in the circle since the promotion.
“I think faceoffs are still a big thing for me,” he said. “I haven’t been too good the last couple games. … I think that’s one thing I’m trying to still work on.”