Sharks 3, Stars 0

The final week in the topsy-turvy Pacific Division will be like

a game of musical chairs.

With a fast start against a tired Dallas team, the San Jose

Sharks took temporary possession of one of those coveted playoff

spots while leaving the Stars on the outside looking in for

now.

Joe Pavelski scored two goals, Antti Niemi earned his sixth

shutout of the season and the Sharks moved back into playoff

position by beating Dallas 3-0 on Saturday night.

”They earned the right to enjoy it right now,” Sharks coach

Todd McLellan said about his players. ”Tomorrow it’s back to work,

and let’s keep our focus. I talked before about not letting your

guard down, and we have in the past. Let’s keep it up. We know

we’ll have a tougher game in Dallas than we had here tonight.”

Jason Demers also scored for the Sharks, who rebounded from

losses at Anaheim and Phoenix to close within one point of Pacific

Division-leading Los Angeles and Phoenix with three games

remaining, including a return trip to Dallas on Tuesday night.

”It was the biggest game of the year for us,” said captain Joe

Thornton, who had two assists. ”We started well and I thought we

competed hard all the way through. Good job by us tonight.”

The Stars were thoroughly outplayed for a second straight night

and have gone from leading the Pacific Division heading into

Friday’s 5-2 loss at Vancouver to being out of the playoff picture

one night later. Dallas trails eighth-place San Jose by one point

for the final postseason spot and is two points out of the division

lead.

The Stars dropped to 1-11-2 in the back end of back-to-backs but

can get back into playoff position when these teams meet in the

rematch. To do it, they will have to play much better than they did

in San Jose when they lost for the fourth time in five games to the

Sharks this season.

”It’s probably three wins or nothing for us now,” captain

Brenden Morrow said. ”It is nice to get them again so soon. But if

we do what we did tonight we’re not going to get the result we

want.”

San Jose got a goal in the opening minute of the game, a second

late in the first period and never looked back. Pavelski put the

Sharks firmly in control when he tipped Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s point

shot past Kari Lehtonen midway through the second period to make it

3-0.

Niemi did the rest, making 22 saves for his 19th career shutout.

The Sharks won all three home games against Dallas, outscoring the

Stars 13-4 in the contests. They have won just five of 16 games

against the rest of the division, a major reason why they are in

danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since

2002-03.

San Jose has a home-and-home against Los Angeles after the trip

to Dallas and might need to win two of those remaining three games

to make it back to the postseason.

After being held to just one goal in the back-to-back losses at

Anaheim and Phoenix, the Sharks got off to a fast start in front of

a boisterous home crowd. Just 58 seconds into the game, Thornton

found Pavelski coming down the slot with a perfect feed and

Pavelski one-timed it past Lehtonen.

”The last few games we’ve had so many good looks. Not just

decent scoring chances but it feels like open nets,” Pavelski

said. ”Everyone knew the importance of the game and it was

exciting to have the crowd into it like a playoff game because

that’s what it was.”

Both teams had good chances for a second goal with Michael

Ryder’s attempt at an open net for Dallas deflecting off defenseman

Justin Braun’s stick and into the crowd, and Patrick Marleau

hitting the post for San Jose.

But San Jose finally converted on its third power play of the

period when Marty Havlat delivered a pinpoint pass to Demers, who

came in from the point on the backside and knocked in his third

goal of the season with 1:22 left in the first.

”They got the jump and set us back a little bit right away,”

Dallas coach Glen Gulutzan said. ”We have a big game with these

guys on Tuesday and our fate is in our hands. It’s got to be the

mindset of do or die.”

Notes: San Jose F Logan Couture has matched a career-long

drought by going 10 games without a goal. … Thornton has 11

points in five games against Dallas this season. … Sharks D

Douglas Murray missed his second straight game with a lower-body

injury. … Dallas D Mark Fistric returned after missing five games

with an abdominal strain and C Toby Petersen played after being a

healthy scratch for 15 straight games. C Tom Wandell sat out again

with an illness.