Sharks damage Coyotes’ hopes with 4-0 win
By JOHN MARSHALL
AP Sports Writer
GLENDALE, Ariz. — The San Jose Sharks have been one of the NHL’s best teams at home so they should be in good playoff position with their next four games at the Shark Tank.
Heading back to the Bay Area after a key road victory should make them feel even more comfortable.
Antti Niemi stopped 35 shots for his fourth shutout of the season, Tommy Wingels had a goal and an assist, and the San Jose Sharks raced past Phoenix in the second period to beat the Coyotes 4-0 on Monday night.
Needing a win after a rough week that included three road games, the Sharks withstood an early push by Phoenix and overwhelmed the Coyotes to move within a point of Los Angeles for fourth place in the Western Conference.
“A 4-0 win in a building we haven’t had a lot of success in lately, it was a good way to end it,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said.
San Jose outshot Phoenix 24-7 in the second, going up 3-0 on goals by Wingels, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski.
Niemi made some tough saves early and was steady after the Sharks took the lead to earn his 23rd career NHL shutout. Matt Irwin scored a late power-play goal.
That gives San Jose a little extra cushion before playing four of its final six at home, starting Tuesday against Los Angeles.
“We have a big game against LA … and we’re looking forward to that one, so it’s good to get this one,” Couture said.
The Coyotes have some work to do for a fourth-straight playoff appearance after failing to make up ground with the season winding down.
Phoenix was sharp early, creating several good scoring chances, but had no answer for the speedy Sharks in the second period, dimming its playoff hopes.
Jason LaBarbera stopped 37 shots for Phoenix, which was shut out for the seventh time this season to remain 11th in the West, four points out of the final playoff spot with six games left.
“What frustrates me is when you have situations when you don’t think we’re playing as well as we can,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. “We don’t have enough players impacting the outcome of the game in a positive way. We’ve got too many players that are just taking up a spot right now.”
These two Pacific Division rivals came in needing not just one win, but several in the final two weeks of the season.
The Sharks put themselves in good position for a playoff spot with a seven-game winning streak, but followed by losing three of four, putting them just two points ahead of the West’s final spot.
The Coyotes had earned a point in eight of their previous nine games (5-1-3), but were still 11th. Phoenix lost a big chance to gain ground in its previous game, losing in overtime to struggling Calgary.
The Coyotes had good pressure against San Jose in the first period, creating numerous quality scoring chances.
Mikkel Boedker missed on one when his shot from the crease hit the crossbar. Another drive by David Moss was turned away by Niemi, who nearly did the splits to make a pad save.
LaBarbera, starting after Mike Smith sustained a lower body injury and couldn’t go, made a similar leg-splitting move in the closing seconds of the first period to stop Couture on a semi-breakaway.
The Sharks swarmed the Coyotes in the second period and scored midway through, when Couture one-timed a rebound of a shot by Jason Demers. Couture got the shot past Oliver Ekman-Larsson in front after the Coyotes defenseman lost his stick and couldn’t block the shot.
Wingels scored 2 1-2 minutes later on a backhander after Phoenix won a faceoff in its zone, lifting a shot off the post and over LaBarbera’s stick shoulder.
Pavelski put the Sharks up 3-0 late in the period, whipping a wrister from the right faceoff dot past LaBarbera’s glove side.
“The first period, we created some good looks, but didn’t want to shoot, wanted to get a little bit cute,” McLellan said of the Sharks’ shift in intensity in the second. “In the second period, we decided we wanted to forecheck and use our size, and it worked for us.”
Phoenix tried to pick up the pressure, creating several good scoring chances while sending 16 shots at Niemi. He wouldn’t let anything past, and Irwin sealed it with just over a minute left by scoring on a shot LaBarbera had trouble seeing with Couture camped out in front.
The loss put the Coyotes in a tough spot with four of their final six games on the road.
“We came out in the first period with a pretty good effort and kind of had the game under control,” Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. “Then in the second period, they ramped up their intensity and we didn’t match it, and unfortunately they beat us.”
NOTES: A moment of silence was held before the game for the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings. National anthem singer Patrick Lauder also seemed to hold the note a beat or two longer on the “land of the free” verse. Coyotes D Keith Yandle had “Pray for Boston” written on his skate. … LW Raffi Torres returned to Phoenix for the first time since being traded to San Jose on April 3, and landed some big hits on former teammates. He had an assist on Pavelski’s goal and was called for a penalty in the first period for throwing an elbow at Yandle after the defenseman slashed him.