Despite sitting in just 12th place in the Western Conference as late as January, the San Jose Sharks clinched their fourth-straight Pacific division crown and with three games remaining look poised to finish second in the Western Conference.
By virtue of their 6-1 thrashing of division rival Los Angeles on Monday, the Sharks now have 103 points, one ahead of the Detroit Red Wings for second in the conference. If San Jose does in fact finish as the No. 2 seed, it will also mark the fourth season in a row that they’ve earned either the first or second spot in the Western Conference.
And while home-ice advantage hasn’t always — if ever (depending on who you talk to) — proved significantly beneficial for the Sharks in the postseason, you never know when a decisive seventh game may be necessary. Even though the Sharks won both regular season games in Detroit this season, nobody in the league wants to risk facing a Game 7 “at the Joe” (aka Joe Louis Arena in Detroit) if they can avoid it.
With San Jose’s past of playoff collapses as a high-seed , many in the Bay Area question the importance of home ice advantage, but Dan Boyle isn’t one of them.
“I’m a big believer in home ice-advantage,” Boyle said.
The way the Sharks have continued to rack points in recent weeks, they look like money in the bank for clinching home-ice through at-least two rounds. They may only be one point ahead of Detroit, but, with the manner in which the Sharks have pummeled all four of their divisional opponents in recent games one has to think that there is quite a good chance they run the table in the final three games against divisional foes Anaheim and Phoenix (twice).
Against the Kings on Monday night, Sharks’ “third-line” center Joe Pavelski added two more points, setting a career high 10 game point streak (18 points in total over that span) and increasing his season total to 65 points.
Given the tear that Pavelski (who plays on San Jose’s No. 1 power-play unit as well as on the penalty kill) has been on, five more points in the final three games of the season might just come to fruition. That gave the Wisconsin born center 70 points on the season, one that he has spent nearly a third of his campaign centering the so designated “third” best forward line.
Now it’s pretty difficult and time consuming to figure out if it has been done before, but when was the last time a team’s third line center going into the postseason had a 70 point regular season? The Sharks, for one, have never had a third line forward playing anywhere close to the level. Pavelski has been playing at this season. This new level of forward depth not previously seen in San Jose should have fans just as excited if not more-so for the playoffs this season as in any of the prior 13 playoff appearances.
Pavelski’s linemates Kyle Wellwood and Torrey Mitchell added another four points amongst the two of them against the Kings, three of which for Wellwood, who was named the game’s first star.
Not only did the Sharks get three of their six goals against the Kings with this trio on the ice, but they also got five points (two goals, three assists) from their blue-line on Monday night, just another indicator of scoring coming from all angles.
Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic,scored one of those goals and added an assist, just his 17th and 18th points of the season, good for fourth amongst the Sharks’ defenseman. Along with Boyle, Ian White, and Vlasic’s defense partner Jason Demers, the Sharks have four defenseman who are all significantly above average in their ability to move the puck. Boyle, Demers, and White are all viable point-men on the power-play and Vlasic (who did put up a 36 point campaign a couple seasons ago) has the skating stride similar to that of Chicago’s Brian Campbell.
Even though Boyle earned an eye popping “Gordie-Howe” hat-trick in the 6-1 domination, the Sharks feature more than their fair share of tough guys including defenseman Douglas Murray, and wingers Ben Eager, Jamal Mayers, Ryane Clowe and Scott Nichol.
Unlike years past when San Jose’s “sheriff’s” were rarely capable of playing in the postseason, fourth line wings Eager and Mayers bring plenty of skill to this year’s grind line and will no doubt be fixtures in the Sharks’ postseason lineup. Case in point, each of the two saw over 16 minutes in ice time Monday. Granted the score became lopsided in the second period but past rough and tumble Sharks forwards like Jody Shelley and Scott Parker simply did not have the talent level to be counted on for big minutes.
Add in Antti Niemi between the pipes and the Sharks have nearly all the ingredients one considers important to a deep playoff run. With the win over the Kings, his 34th start in a row, Niemi has led his squad to an absolutely ridiculous record of 26-4-4 since Jan. 15.
The only real weakness one could point to about the Sharks as the playoffs inch closer is their penalty kill which falls in the bottom third of the league at just 23rd overall. Outside of that, the Sharks have everything you look for come playoff time. If it wasn’t for their recent stretch of post-season flops, the Sharks would be right up there in conversations with the Red Wings, Canucks, Flyers and Capitals.
Not to mention the Sharks have beaten each of those four at least once this season, for a combined record of 7-3-1 against the top two opponents from each conference.
Ryane Clowe skated only 1:43 in ice time, apparently tweaking something in his lower body.
Joe Thornton picked up a goal and an assist leaving him stuck on 999 career points.