Sharks Finish Strong and Keep the Hope for No. 1 Seed Alive

With a chance to finish the regular season on a positive note and remain a contender for the no. 1 playoffs seed in  the West, San Jose Sharks had to battle through another game against a divisional rival Phoenix Coyotes. In the end, the Sharks came out on top in a 3-2 shootout win, and now get an extra day of rest before the rest of the league finishes the season on Sunday. 

Ever since Phoenix Coyotes picked up Ilya Bryzgalov from Anaheim Ducks 2.5 years ago, the Sharks did not have an easy time against them. Even when Gretzky was behind the bench, these games were always my least favorite to watch. Phoenix knows how to meet the Sharks in the neutral zone. They know who is the best match up against who. They know what the Sharks are going to do in a shootout. They even hired a former Dallas Stars coach who had no need for scouting to know how to kill the Sharks entrance into the zone. Finally, the worst part about this match up is that when Nabokov is going against Bryzgalov, both goalies are focused and want to outplay one another. 

Tonight's game was no exception to this trend of defensive hockey. Both teams combined for 30 giveaways. For comparison, in the previous game against the Canucks, there were only 17 giveaways by both teams, and only 13 against the Flames. In such a sloppy game of hockey, the Sharks had to wait till the skills competition to earn the 2 points, and perhaps this is how Coyotes wanted it too.  

Here are the notes from the game. 

  • With the first goal in the game, Devin Setoguchi scored his 20th goal of the season. The goal was scored on a breakaway early on, as he shot the puck straight through the Bryzgalov's five-hole. Seto broke the 20-goal mark for the second time in his second full season with the Sharks. Good to see him get on the board going into playoffs, as he's been one of the players who struggled scoring goals since the Olympic break. Setoguchi had just 5 goals in the previous 19 games. 
  • On the other hand, Dany Heatley's dry streak continued, and he finished the regular season with 39 goals. Tonight marked the 7th game without goals, and Heatley scored just 7 times in the past 20 games. Half way through the second period he appeared to have scored, as the Sharks went up 2-1, but few minutes later the NHL changed the scorer to Patrick Marleau. The replay of the goal showed that Marleau did touch the puck in the air before it went in.  
  • Evgeni Nabokov finished the season with 71 starts, which is the second number of games he's ever played in a season, behind his 77 games in Ron Wilson's last season in San Jose. 
  • Marleau, Thornton and Heatley played another game together on the same line. As Pollak indicated, he wants the HTML line to be in sync before the playoffs. The Big Three combined for 3 points, and four shots on goal. Joe Thornton, together with Douglas Murray, led the team in hits, with 4 of them on the night. 
  • As GhostOfLinkGaetz observed in the comments in a game thread, the shootout was a fitting end to the Coyotes regular season. For them, it was their 20th shootout this season and they won 14 of them. Knowing this stat, I did not think the Sharks would earn another point. But with shootout goals from Pavelski, Clowe and Couture and a big save from Nabokov on Shane Doan, the Sharks proved me wrong. 
  • Logan Couture said in post game comments that he did not expect to be one of the shooters in a shootout with all the talent on the team. McLellan thought otherwise.  "He's a shooter that Bryzgalov obviously wouldn't know," McLellan said. "We went with it. That's a lot of pressure for the young man. He's handled every bit of pressure that's been put on him since he's been here. He'll get a taste of more of it later on next week."  
  • With Nashville Predators prevailing over St Loius Blues tonight, the playoffs match ups in the West remain as undecided as they were earlier this morning. The Sharks could still play any of the four bottom seeds in the 1st round - Detroit, Nashville, Los Angeles or Colorado, depending on the outcome of Chicago - Detroit and LA - Colorado games. The doomsday scenario that would put the Sharks against the Red Wings is a win by Chicago in regulation and at least one point for LA. 
While it's hard to believe how fast this regular season flew by, for the Sharks it is now in the books. 

The best and the worst time of the year for hockey fans begins now.
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