Sharks punch playoff ticket with win over Stars

HP PAVILION — Fog horns and sonic booms had nothing on the noise level at the Shark Tank Tuesday night.

No joke, dogs in other states might have heard the sold-out sea of teal sweaters shriek with glee as the San Jose Sharks came from behind in the third period to beat the Dallas Stars 3-2 and punch their ticket to the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Team captain Joe Thornton — still out of breath from the raucous end of the game — touched on how nice it was to clinch:

“It feels good. It was a battle all night, we had so many chances all night. We needed the two points bad, and yeah. We’re in. … Couldn’t be happier right now.”

A tense do-or-die nature was palpable in the opening period. San Jose’s first power play of the evening at six minutes in put pressure on goaltender Kari Lehtonen. The Sharks would post up near the crease and fire several shots at Dallas’ net, including one from Joe Pavelski that hit off the crossbar.

But Team Teal didn’t let their second power play opportunity pass them by. On the man advantage at 12:53, Scott Gomez fed the puck to Raffi Torres for a beautiful backhand goal to put the home team on the board 1-0. Martin Havlat, who also had an assist, has five points (3 goals, 2 assists) in the last three games.

The Stars answered quickly with a wrist shot on a rebound from Antoine Roussel that squeaked past an outstretched Antti Niemi, tying the game 1-1.

San Jose got into penalty trouble with less than two minutes remaining in the first period, giving the Stars a 5-on-3 power play. But defenseman Justin Braun cleared the puck out of San Jose territory and nearly scored a breakaway goal, giving Niemi some breathing room.

Head coach Todd McLellan said that he was happy with how the team killed the penalty:

“We were a strong team in a lot of areas. Even the penalties — they were penalties, but those are going to happen. I liked our kill…”

Tied 1-1, Marc-Edouard Vlasic took a slashing penalty right at the buzzer, forcing the Sharks to kill off another two-man advantage to open up the second period.

Dallas scored 17 seconds into the second period when Loui Eriksson took advantage of a bad rebound off a shot by Ray Whitney to put the Stars ahead 2-1.

San Jose nearly put the puck in the back of Dallas’ net, but Trevor Daly came up with a huge save for the Stars clearing the puck out of the blue paint from behind Lehtonen’s back.

The Sharks continued to get the puck into Stars territory. With less than a minute left in the period, the Sharks peppered the net with. Andrew Desjardins had a great opportunity to tie the game, but Lehtonen stopped everything directed at him.

The 2-1 score carried into the second intermission thanks to great goaltending by Lehtonen as the Sharks outshot the Stars 24-15 through two periods.

The final period of play dragged on with neither team getting many more chances. Dallas’ offense upped their shots on goal but Niemi was there to make each block.

Lehtonen appeared to be on his way getting voted the top star of the game when Joe Pavelski tipped in a one-timer from Stuart to tie the game 2-2 at 14:23.  Pavelski talked about finally getting the puck past Lehtonen:

“Talk about going to get the goalie. He was getting the best of us a little bit. … So it’s definitely a good feeling to get a couple in there at the end.”

The sold-out crowd wasn’t done cheering when 30 seconds later, Patrick Marleau fed the puck to Logan Couture who launched a wrist shot to into the back of Dallas’ net. The noise level reached unspeakable levels as the Sharks led 3-2.

Reflecting on the go-ahead goal, Couture contributed it to the team’s ability to keep pushing:

“We stuck with it. That’s something we did last game, it’s something that we did again tonight. Which is a positive, obviously. We need to stop putting ourselves down. … It’s nice to see that we can come back and find a way to win.”

With a playoff spot secured, there is no time to let up as the Sharks can still try to secure the fourth seed for home ice advantage. McLellan explained:

“There’s a sense of relief, but it can’t be a sense of relaxation. When we came in, we immediately looked at what happened tonight  around the league, and there’s still a chance for home ice. And that would be a nice thing to have..”

The Sharks’ final two games are on the road beginning Wednesday night in Phoenix against the Coyotes at 7:00 p.m. The regular season finale is on the road against the rival LA Kings Saturday night.

Notes

The Sharks clinched a playoff spot for the ninth-straight season, the second longest active playoff streak in the NHL behind the Detroit Red Wings who have done so for 21 seasons. … San Jose has scored at least one power play goal in three straight, and five of its last six games. … Pavelski scored the 150th goal of his career. He is currently on a three-game goal scoring streak. … In 59 games against the Stars, Thornton has 61 points (16 goals, 45 assists). … Torres scored his second goal with the Sharks. In nine games with the team Torres has posted six points (2-4-6), 37 hits, and a plus-2 rating.