SAN JOSE –- During the Sharks’ current 4-0-1 run that has at the very least earned them a stay of execution on the 2014-15 season, a number of things have gone right that weren’t happening earlier.
The goaltending has been consistent and strong. Antti Niemi picked up where Alex Stalock left off on Friday against Arizona, making 20 saves in a 3-1 home win. The Sharks have allowed just six goals against in their last four games.
The depth scoring has appeared, led by rookie Chris Tierney, who has 15 points in 24 games since getting recalled from the minors in early February. Tierney assisted on Matt Nieto’s third period goal that put the game away for the Sharks, as the coaching staff has finally found a consistent third line combination after months of searching.
The number of glaring defensive miscues have also lessened. Although Karl Stollery and Brent Burns both erred in allowing the Coyotes’ only marker on Friday night, the blue line has done an admirable job, especially considering Marc-Edouard Vlasic has missed the last three-and-a-half games with a lower body injury.
All of that adds up to a team that just won’t die, as the Sharks are now three points out of the final wild card spot with four games remaining. They still have to leapfrog two teams to get into playoff position, though.
“We talked a while ago about playing well and putting a string of wins together, and see what happens,” Todd McLellan said. “The guys have done a good job. I don’t think they’re getting too far ahead. I don’t think we feel any more comfortable now than we did a week ago. We shouldn’t. We still need a lot of help.”
Is it frustrating to still be outside despite gaining nine of a possible 10 points?
"No, because we put ourselves in this position. We have no one to blame but ourselves,” said Logan Couture, whose impressive goal in the first minute against Arizona opened the scoring. “We can't change anything. We can't go back and win games that we lost. We can only win the games that are ahead of us.”
Not everything is flawless. Against Arizona, the Sharks looked like they were on their way to a rout with a pair of goals in the first five minutes. A Mark Arcobello marker at 2:34 of the second period, that was inadvertently tipped in by Burns, allowed the Coyotes to cut the Sharks lead in half and gain confidence.
The Sharks held on to that 2-1 edge after the second period, and didn’t put it away until Nieto’s rebound goal at 14:10 of the third.
“We had some breakdowns, we turned some pucks over, and that's what they fed off of, transition turnovers and odd-man rushes,” Couture said of Arizona’s second period. “Nemo came up with the big saves when we needed him to."
The Tierney line, which has become a consistent threat for San Jose, finally got that third goal that the Sharks had been searching for since early in the match.
“That’s a big goal with five minutes left,” Niemi said.
The depth scoring has “really helped us because we’re three deep now as far as offensive lines,” said McLellan, who also praised the Sharks’ fourth line of Ben Smith, Barclay Goodrow, and Mike Brown, who played in his first game since Dec. 9.
San Jose will have another opportunity to take advantage of arguably the worst team in the league on Saturday in Arizona and get even closer to a playoff spot, depending on what the Kings and Jets do. They are looking more and more like a club that has a real chance to win its quartet of remaining games, which is basically a necessity if they want to make it to an 11th straight postseason.
Niemi said: “We haven’t really thought about that, that we have to win every game. But, that’s pretty much the case.”
“We've got to win tomorrow,” Joe Pavelski said. “We'll see what other teams do, and all we can do is play.”