Sharks-Blue Jackets Preview
San Jose’s current surge has coincided with a slump from its main rival in the Pacific Division, lifting the Sharks closer to the top spot.
They’ll look to keep the pressure on Thursday night when they open a three-game eastern road trip against the Columbus Blue Jackets, who have also surged into the thick of their respective playoff race.
The Sharks (42-17-7) have won three straight and are 7-1-1 in their last nine. That’s pulled them to within a few points of Anaheim, which has struggled since the start of February.
San Jose completed a 3-0-1 homestand with a 6-2 win over Toronto on Tuesday. Joe Pavelski had two goals and an assist for the Sharks, who outshot the Maple Leafs 48-21 and lead the NHL with 35.1 shots on goal per game.
San Jose has recorded 47 or more shots three times in the last eight contests.
"We did a pretty admirable job here at home," coach Todd McLellan told the team’s official website. "We got to go back on the road back east for the last time and try to get things done there."
Prolific offense has powered the Sharks through much of this hot streak, with San Jose scoring 26 goals in its last five wins. Brent Burns and Tommy Wingels have three goals apiece in the last three games, with both scoring Tuesday.
San Jose will be facing another hot team in Columbus (34-26-5), which has relied on defense to win five of six, allowing two or fewer goals four times. Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 39 shots to lead the Blue Jackets past Detroit 4-1 on Tuesday, giving him a 1.99 goals-against average while starting the last six contests.
Columbus and Philadelphia each have 73 points, one behind the New York Rangers for second place in the Metropolitan Division.
"We have to keep building off that and not take a step back, just keep pushing forward," said center Boone Jenner, who scored the go-ahead goal in the third period.
Columbus is also battling for a wild-card spot in the East, making the win over the conference rival Red Wings all the more critical.
"The closer you get down to the stretch of the season, every game is going to be a playoff-like atmosphere," Blue Jackets defenseman James Wisniewski said.
Columbus has dominated the Sharks at home of late, winning the last three meetings there and outscoring San Jose 16-5. The Blue Jackets went 5 for 13 on the power play in those games.
Columbus had won four in a row in the series overall before falling 3-2 at San Jose on Feb. 7. Wingels’ goal early in the third period proved to be the winner and the Sharks held a 47-21 shot advantage.
"If we want to catch (Anaheim), we have to keep winning, because they’ll win as well," Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic said.
The Blue Jackets will be without forward Blake Comeau, who was suspended for two games Wednesday for hitting Detroit defenseman Brendan Smith from behind.