Sharks top Coyotes to preserve playoff hopes

Needing every point possible to keep alive their remote playoff chances, the Sharks delivered with a 3-1 win over the Coyotes on Friday night.

San Jose entered the night five points behind Los Angeles and Winnipeg for the final wild card spot in the West and six points behind the Flames for third in the division.

With the win – and the other teams idle – the Sharks, having won four of their last five, move to within three points of a playoff spot with four games left.

Head coach Todd McLellan is content with his team’s recent winning ways, but realizes the tough road ahead:

“We talked a while ago about playing well and putting a string of wins together and seeing what happens. The guys have done a good job. I don’t think they’re getting too far ahead. I don’t think we feel any more comfortable now than we did a week ago, and we shouldn’t. We still need a lot of help.”

Indeed, even with the win, the Sharks’ playoff odds increase to a paltry 4.4 percent. Even if they win their four remaining games, the chance only jumps up to 31.8 percent, per SportsClubStats. 

But the Sharks can only worry about the game in front of them, and they took care of the lowly Coyotes, who have just four wins their last 27 games.

Two first-period goals were all the Sharks needed as they hung on through a shaky second period and survived the third with the help of a late insurance marker.

Photos by Thomas Mendoza/SFBay

Holding on to a 2-1 lead with under six minutes to play in the third, Matt Nieto doubled the Sharks’ advantage, scoring on the rebound off a shot by Chris Tierney.

The Coyotes almost responded with a shorthanded goal on an ensuing Sharks power play, but Brent Burns kept the puck from crossing the goal line, batting it away with his glove.

Nevertheless, the Sharks secured a pivotal two points to keep themselves alive in the playoff chase.

San Jose jumped ahead early with two first period goals, the first coming just 58 seconds into the game courtesy of Logan Couture. Entering the zone, Couture took a pass from Tomas Hertl on the right wing and wristed it hard past the glove of Coyotes’ goaltender Louis Domingue.

The pass from Hertl was off target, so Couture kicked it to his stick with his left foot. The winger joked about it post-game:

“[Hertl] doesn’t like to pass to the tape, he passes to the feet. So I knew it was going there. I’m a lefty in soccer, so I’m better with my left foot. I put it to a spot where I could get it off pretty quickly and I think I surprised [Domingue].”

Joe Pavelski followed with a goal at the five-minute mark to give the Sharks a 2-0 lead. With the Sharks maintaining pressure after an expired power play, Patrick Marleau set up Pavelski from behind the net and Pavelski one-timed in his 37th goal of the season.

Pavelski described the goal:

“You know [the power play’s] over and you’re thinking of getting off pretty soon. You see [the puck] go down and just hold my position. Patty makes a good play and it’s good to see it go in.”

The strong start set the tone for an effective victory as the Sharks outshot the Coyotes 37-21, holding the Coyotes to 10 shots combined in the first two periods.

Couture said scoring early was the strategy:

“It’s nice to score early in the game. That’s part of our game plan – get one on them early – and we got two right away. So it was a good start to the game.”

Shortly afterwards, an apparent goal by the Coyotes was waived off as David Moss was whistled for pushing the puck across the goal line while driving the net.

That was one of the few chances the Coyotes received in the period as the Sharks dominated on the scoreboard and the shot counter, outshooting Arizona 16-3. They controlled possession in the offensive zone for much of the period against a hapless Coyotes squad.

The Coyotes got one back at the start of the second period to cut the lead in half. Less than three minutes in, Burns deflected a centering pass by Mark Arcobello into his own net in an attempt to knock it away from Tobias Rieder.

The period was still controlled by the Sharks, outshooting the Coyotes 10-7, but they could take advantage of their opportunities. Melker Karlsson and Tommy Wingels could not convert on a 2-on-1 shortly after the Coyotes’ goal, and then Wingels and Nieto were both denied point blank midway through the period. In the final minute of action, Chris Tierney had a shot in front blocked.

As a result, Arizona hung around and was inches away from tying the game late in the period. Shane Doan threw the puck to the net from below the goal line and the redirection by Rieder popped up behind Antti Niemi, but Niemi snagged it with his glove just as it was about to go in.

Niemi stopped 20 of 21 shots in his first game back after missing the previous three games with a cold.

The Sharks will need to emulate the effort and result in this game four more times to give themselves a chance at playing beyond the regular season. Even then, they will need the teams ahead of them — Los Angeles, Winnipeg, and Calgary — to falter in their final games.

Couture doesn’t feel sorry for the position his team is in:

“We have no one to blame but ourselves. We’re in a position right now where we can’t change anything. Can’t go back and win games that we lost. We can only win games that are ahead of us, so that’s what we’re trying to do.”

McLellan echoed those thoughts:

“It’s one game at a time. You can’t play two games in one night. We know if we don’t get the game we’re looking at, the consequences aren’t very good. We have a tough game again tomorrow and that’s all we’re looking at.”

Notes

Mike Brown and Karl Stollery were both in the lineup for the Sharks. Brown has been sidelined since Dec. 9 with a broken leg and Stollery was called up from Worcester. … The Sharks play the Coyotes again on Saturday, this time on the road. … Couture recorded his 27th goal and an assist, giving him a career-high 66 points on the season. … Pavelski scored his 25th career goal against the Coyotes. … With an assist, Tierney has 15 points since being called up from Worcester on Feb. 4. … Attendance tonight was 17,562, a sellout.