The surging San Jose Sharks have climbed from the middle of the Western Conference playoff pack to the top of the Pacific Division and into the Presidents’ Trophy chase.
They’ll go for their eighth win in nine games Saturday night when the Washington Capitals visit with hopes of extending their four-game point streak and continuing to track down a wild-card spot.
To do so, Washington will have to overcome a messy stretch in San Jose. A Capitals win would be their first there since Oct. 30, 1993. Since then, the Sharks are 11-0-0 with one tie when hosting Washington.
San Jose (46-18-7) skated to one of its biggest victories of the season Thursday, beating Anaheim 3-2 to move two points ahead of the Ducks for the division lead and within two of conference-leading St. Louis.
"This was something we’ve had our eye on for a while," forward Tommy Wingels said. "Now that we’ve got a grasp of it, we can’t look back. We’ve got to keep the pedal down and try to pull away. We worked this hard to get here, we can’t give it up now."
Joe Thornton and Brent Burns each had a goal and an assist in the third period as the Sharks overcame a 2-1 deficit.
Burns, who along with Thornton has four points in the past two games, netted the winner and increased his career-best goal total to 20. San Jose is 15-1-1 when he scores.
"It’s so easy to play with him," Thornton told the team’s official website. "He just goes. He’s just a beast out there. Nobody can handle his size and his speed. It just forces you to try to keep up with him because he’s going so fast. It’s great to watch."
Not much was required of Antti Niemi, who stopped 16 shots to improve to 6-1-0 with a 1.87 goals-against average in March. Since joining the Sharks, Niemi is 4-0-0 with a 1.23 GAA against Washington.
Overall, San Jose has beaten the Capitals in 17 of 18 and six straight, including a 2-1 shootout win in Washington on Jan. 14 as Niemi made 35 saves and three stops in the tiebreaker.
The Capitals (33-27-11), however, will likely carry a little more confidence into this meeting as they complete a three-game California trip. They had won three straight against playoff-contending teams before suffering a 2-1 shootout loss in Los Angeles on Thursday.
"Their goalie played great, and maybe stole it for them. But they also played a hard-nose physical game, and I’m proud of our guys and the way they stood up to it," coach Adam Oates said. "The second half of the game I thought we kind of took it to them. We had a lot of good chances, and I would say we carried the pace a little bit."
Joel Ward scored for a fourth straight game, Nicklas Backstrom had his fifth assist on a four-game point streak and Jaroslav Halak made 27 saves. They helped put the Capitals in position to match a season-best five-game point streak Saturday.
Washington is within three points of both wild-card spots in the East.
Halak is 4-2-1 with a 2.13 GAA since being acquired from Buffalo at the trade deadline. However, his two starts against San Jose this season were ugly, posting a 4.91 GAA and losing both while with St. Louis.