Sharks regain lead in best record race
The San Jose Sharks are back on top of the NHL standings, but rookie coach Todd McLellan hopes his team doesn't lose sight of the big picture.
"I really don't think right now this group is focused on staying in front of Detroit," McLellan said after Joe Pavelski's power-play goal early in the third period lifted San Jose to a 3-2 win over the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday night. "We can't play these last seven games with Detroit in the back of our mind. We are a better team when we are focused on what we're doing."
San Jose, with a franchise-record 109 points, jumped two points ahead of the Red Wings for first place in the league standings and in the chase for home-ice advantage throughout the postseason. The Sharks now head on the road, where they are 2-5-1 since Feb. 26.
San Jose beat Phoenix for the third time in five games this season despite losing team captain Patrick Marleau to a lower body injury three shifts into the second period. It was yet another blow to the injury-riddled Sharks, who are limping down the stretch.
Jonathan Cheechoo (lower body), Rob Blake (lower body) Ryan Clowe (lower body procedure) and Marcel Goc (lower body) were among nine San Jose players scratched from the game, putting added pressure on the Sharks backups, including Tom Cavanagh, who scored his first career goal.
"Everyone is going to have to contribute," said Cavanagh, whose second-period goal gave San Jose a 2-1 lead. "We have a lot of injuries so we need all four lines to go out there and create some energy. That's what this team needs."
Pavelski's 23rd goal was scored from just inside the left circle 1:34 into the third period and came off Devin Setoguchi's second assist of the night. Setoguchi also assisted on Cavanagh's goal in the first period. Jody Shelley added a goal for San Jose.
Kurt Sauer and Matt Lombardi scored for Phoenix, which lost for only the second time in six games (3-2-1).
"We seem to be playing with a lot more intensity, and our speed is much stronger right now," Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky said. "Right now, we come into a game like this and they're battling for home-ice advantage and they're a very good hockey club.
"For us to have the kind of night we had was a pretty strong effort."
Evgeni Nabokov made 30 saves, including stopping Nigel Dawes' wrist shot from the left circle with 5:23 remaining. Nabokov also turned aside Phoenix's last shot from center ice to seal the win.
The Coyotes, who beat San Jose 4-3 on March 17 on a goal by Shane Doan with 26.9 seconds remaining, didn't get many opportunities against Nabokov in the third period after Pavelski gave the Sharks the lead.
"We kept the pressure on and wore them down a little bit," said Pavelski, who has seven points (three goals, four assists) in five games. "We just kept applying more and more pressure in the their zone."
As for the race with Detroit for home-ice in the playoffs, Pavelski said the Sharks can't help but think about it.
"We're conscious of it, just like we're conscious of the 7, 8, 9 and 10 spots," Pavelski said. "It's a battle right to the end of the season. We need to polish our game. It's exciting to watch two teams go after the top spot."
Sauer's first goal of the season 2:28 into the second period gave Phoenix a 1-0 lead.
"I guess lightning strikes," Sauer said. "It was fun that way, but it's kind of bittersweet when (the team) doesn't get two points."
Less than a minute after Sauer's goal, the Sharks tied it on an unassisted goal by Shelley. Shelley, one of San Jose's enforcers, stole the puck near center ice and fired a quick shot that beat goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.
Two minutes later, Cavanagh took a quick pass from Setoguchi and flipped the puck over Bryzgalov's right shoulder for a 2-1 San Jose lead.
"It's nice when you chip in. It's a good sign we're getting chances," Shelley said. "I think it settled us down. With a team that's going to the playoffs you need other guys chipping in when some guys aren't going."
Lombardi tied it 2-2 at 6:30 of the second, setting off a fight 6 seconds later between San Jose's Travis Moen and Phoenix's Daniel Winnik.
Lombardi was called for tripping early in the third, leading to Pavelski's winning goal.
The game was stopped after only 9 seconds when linesman Darren Gibbs was hit in the back of the head by a puck off a pass by Dawes. Gibbs was face down on the ice for several moments before slowly getting to his knees and eventually leaving with the aid of a Sharks trainer. He returned later in the first period. ... The Shark Tank had to be converted from a lacrosse field less than seven hours after the San Jose Stealth played Portland.