SAN JOSE – After missing Tuesday’s Sharks win in Vancouver, Joel Ward is fine to play against the Canucks in the back end of the home-and-home on Thursday at SAP Center.
Just like when Joonas Donskoi sat out on March 26 against Dallas, Ward would not have missed any time had it been a playoff game.
“It was good to get a couple days, for sure,” Ward said. “I feel a little refreshed, I guess you could say. … Just a couple bumps here and there.”
Assistant coach Steve Spott, filling in for Pete DeBoer on Thursday morning, said: “He had a good skate this morning and he’s going to play this evening. Another veteran guy in our lineup, an important piece for our group up front, so it’s good having him back in the lineup tonight.”
It’s unclear if Ward will return on the second line with Logan Couture or third line with Patrick Marleau. Micheal Haley will likely come out of the lineup, after playing the previous four games.
Sharks defenseman Roman Polak, who was blindsided on Tuesday on a late hit by the Canucks’ Jake Virtanen, is also good to go. Virtanen, a 19-year-old rookie, was handed a two-game suspension for the play, so he’ll be out on Thursday.
Polak expressed indifference when asked about the league’s decision.
“I’m just happy I didn’t get injured,” he said. “Nothing happened to me. That’s what I’m happy for. Other than that, it’s up to the league. … I’m not even thinking about it right now.”
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The Sharks are still pushing hard for the Pacific Division title, according to Spott.
San Jose would have to leapfrog both the Ducks and Kings in order to gain home ice for the first two rounds. It is four points behind Anaheim and three behind the Kings, each of whom have one game in hand.
“As long as we have a chance to do that, that’s the focus of the coaching staff and the hockey club,” Spott said. “We’ll continue to press every night, trust our best players, and give ourselves a chance to get two points.”
The Sharks have just five games remaining, and according to the website sportsclubstats.com, there is a 90 percent chance they will finish as the third seed in the division.
But, never tell them the odds.
“We’ve still got some games left, so a lot of things can happen,” Joe Thornton said. “We’re going to try and win our games and see what happens at the end of the year.”
Should the Sharks get locked into the third seed at some point, it would offer the coaching staff a chance to rest some of the older veteran players. San Jose relies heavily on its veterans like Thornton (36), Patrick Marleau (36), Paul Martin (35), Ward (35), Joe Pavelski (31) and Brent Burns (31).
Thornton said: “Me personally, I like to keep my timing and keep playing. I’m sure if Pete said, ‘hey, you’re taking a day off,’ I would. But for me, it’s all about timing, rhythm. I feel healthier when I play. I just like to play games. I’ve always been like that.”
Martin said: “It’s nice to be able to get a little rest before you start, but there’s something to be said when you’re playing every other day and you’re team is in a groove and you’re playing well. It’s hard to say one way or another.”
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Martin Jones will return to the net for the Sharks. He’s 3-3-0 in his last six starts with a 1.85 goals-against average and .924 save percentage. It’s expected he’ll face Ryan Miller.
One interesting note is that Vancouver’s Markus Granlund, who was acquired by the Canucks on Feb. 22, will be playing his ninth game against San Jose this season. The first four came while he was still with Calgary. He has two points, both goals, over the first eight.