Logan Couture and Marty Havlat did much more than just shut down Minnesota’s top line. They dominated the score sheet for San Jose, as well.
Couture and Havlat each scored two goals and the Sharks closed in on a ninth straight playoff berth, beating the Wild 6-1 on Thursday night for their most lopsided win of the season.
”The last 10 games or so we’ve been matched up against top lines, so it’s a challenge every night,” Couture said. ”Coming to the rink we’re excited to do it. To have a point night like this is always nice.”
Couture, Havlat and Patrick Marleau controlled their matchup with Mikko Koivu, Zack Parise and Charlie Coyle by winning faceoffs, getting the puck into the Wild zone and converting on their scoring chances. Couture and Marleau had two assists apiece and Havlat added another as the trio combined for nine points.
Raffi Torres and Joe Pavelski also scored for the Sharks, who have won three straight games to remain tied for fourth place with Los Angeles in the race for home-ice advantage in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. Antti Niemi made 26 saves in his 22nd straight start.
”We all feel comfortable,” captain Joe Thornton said. ”We all like where our game is. We can still improve in some things and we still got some games in the regular season to win. But, yeah, we keep getting better. It’s a perfect time for that.”
Pierre-Marc Bouchard scored the lone goal for the Wild, who dropped behind St. Louis into seventh place in the conference. Minnesota has a four-point lead over ninth-place Dallas and Detroit in the battle for the final playoff spot in the conference but has one fewer game remaining.
”We didn’t deserve anything today,” said Niklas Backstrom, who was replaced in the third period after allowing five goals. ”We know we can play a lot better than that. We weren’t playing well at any point of the game today. We have to get back to basics and do the small things right. We have to get back to playing our game. If we play the right way, we’ll be fine.”
Havlat has struggled to produce in his two seasons in San Jose since being acquired in a deal for Heatley in July 2011. But he has excelled against the Wild this month with three goals and two assists. He has no points in his last 10 games against the rest of the league.
Along with the two goals, Havlat also drew the penalty that set up Couture’s power-play tally when he was held by Clayton Stoner early in the second.
The Sharks capitalized on a nifty passing sequence when Joe Thornton fed Patrick Marleau behind the goal line and Marleau set up Couture in the slot for a one-timer that made it 2-0.
”The way he’s been playing lately he’s driving our bus right now,” coach Todd McLellan said. ”He’s the head guy and he’s making it happen and we’re happy for him.”
Bouchard brought the Wild back when he beat Niemi with a backhand on a breakaway off a nice feed from Jason Pominville, but Havlat restored the two-goal lead late in the period with help from his linemate Couture.
Couture leaped to knock down Backstrom’s clearing attempt behind the net and quickly fed Havlat in front for the easy goal with Backstrom scrambling to get back in position.
”It was lucky,” Couture said. ”I think I reached behind my head and was able to knock it down. I looked right up and saw Marty in the slot. So I’ll take it.”
Torres and Pavelski then broke the game open when they teamed up for a pair of goals in a 22-second span early in the third period. The first came when Torres forced a turnover from Jonas Brodin and then skated around the net to beat Backstrom on a wraparound for his first goal with the Sharks on an assist from Pavelski.
They stayed on for the ensuing faceoff scored again to end Backstrom’s night. Torres shot was blocked and went right to Pavelski in the slot, who scored his 14th goal of the season.
Couture added his second against Darcy Kuemper on an assist from Havlat midway through the third.
The Sharks took a 1-0 lead after the first period when Niemi stopped Jason Pominville on a breakaway shortly before San Jose capitalized on a fortuitous bounce. Havlat’s centering pass to Logan Couture deflected off the stick of back-checking Mikko Koivu and into the net to give the Sharks a 1-0 lead.
”We didn’t play the way we wanted to play,” Pominville said. ”If we had put that one away early it might have been a different game. But we just weren’t executing. We have to put it behind us and look ahead. We have to make sure we’re better. We have to make adjustments.”
Notes: San Jose improved to 16-1-5 at home this season. … Havlat has four goals in his last 29 games with three coming against the Wild. … Minnesota F Mike Rupp missed his second straight game with a lower-body injury.