The Sharks playoff hopes went from remote to microscopic on Saturday in Arizona, thanks in part to a goaltender that has given them trouble for years.
Mike Smith made 42 saves, including some spectacular stops in the second period, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored twice to give the Sharks their first regulation loss in the last six games (4-1-1) with a 5-3 win at Gila River Arena.
San Jose has just three games left, and is five points behind Los Angeles and Winnipeg, with the Kings and Jets both owning a game in hand. The Sharks would have to leapfrog both teams in order to extend their playoff streak to 11 seasons.
Smith improved to 8-2-2 in his last 12 starts against the Sharks, including a 5-1-1 mark at Gila River Arena.
Arizona won for the first time in regulation since Feb. 3. The Coyotes improved to just 5-21-2 in their last 28.
Arizona led 3-2 entering the third period, and increased the cushion to two goals at 5:30. Mark Arcobello got open in the offensive zone, and whizzed it past Antti Niemi for his second goal in as many nights.
San Jose responded with a power play goal, its second of the night, to get back to within one. Chris Tierney deflected Matt Irwin’s blast in at 6:48, for Tierney’s sixth of the season and fourth in the last nine games.
The Sharks went on the power play with 2:49 to go in the third period, but couldn’t find a third power play goal as they lost for the first time in regulation in five games against Arizona in the season series (3-1-1).
Sam Gagner’s empty-net goal with 10 seconds left effectively ended the Sharks’ season, although they remain barely mathematically alive, for now.
The teams combined for three power-play goals in the first period, with Arizona getting two of them. Shane Doan tipped a slap shot by Michael Stone that ended up bouncing off of the post and in at 18:57.
Earlier in the first. Ekman-Larsson opened the scoring with a wrist shot that beat Antti Niemi at 11:53, but Tomas Hertl’s goal with a man advantage after a nice entry by Chris Tierney equaled the score at 16:36.
Arizona jumped ahead 3-1 on another Ekman-Larsson marker with just 2:14 left in the second, but the Sharks again responded quickly. Joe Thornton’s impossible angle wrist shot sailed high over Smith’s shoulder just 19 seconds later.
The goal ended a seven-game scoreless drought for the former captain, the longest such streak of his Sharks career.
The Sharks had won four straight games in Arizona.
Each team had two power-play goals, with the Sharks going 2-for-6 and Arizona 2-for-4.
San Jose had just two power play goals in its last five games, but is now 4-for-19 over the last six (21.0 percent).
The penalty kill, though, remains a weakness. The Sharks are just 7-for-12 on the PK over their last five games, and 56-for-77 since the All-Star break in late January (72.7 percent).
Niemi started game on back-to-back nights for the first time this season, and took the loss with 28 saves on 32 shots. Prior to Friday’s game, Alex Stalock played in the previous three games.
Smith, who was given the night off on Friday, improved to 14-39-5 on the season.
The Sharks iced their same lineup on Saturday that skated in Friday’s home win over Arizona.
Joe Pavelski’s seven-game goal streak and eight-game point streak against the Coyotes came to an end. Logan Couture’s five-game point streak was also halted by Arizona.
The Sharks host Jason Demers and the Dallas Stars on Monday in what will be their final home game of the season. The Sharks visit Edmonton next Thursday, April 9 and Los Angeles on Saturday, April 11 to close it out.