Although HP Pavilion has played more like Dallas' rink over the course of the season, the Sharks made sure that they used their home ice to their advantage tonight.
In doing so, they may have helped to assure that they'll continue to have that advantage going forward.
The Sharks now control their destiny for the second seed in the Western Conference and are at least guaranteed a playoff berth. The season may not be over for a few more games, but the way the Sharks have played as of late, it's more likely than not that San Jose will be near the top of the conference heading into the postseason.
While we didn't notice a significant difference in the mood of Sharks' coach Todd McLellan, it seemed there was an underlying relief based upon the fact that his team clinched a playoff spot. In particular, he credited the team's ability to continue to play at a high level.
"We were a little concerned coming off the four-day layoff, but I think we came out and were obviously energized and the guys used the four days to their advantage," said the coach.
It hasn't been tough for the Sharks to get motivated for games this year; the team hasn't had much postseason security in the ultra-competitive Western Conference race. Their play tonight wasn't really a surprise. What was surprising, however, was the effort put forth by Dallas.
Contrary to the Sharks, Dallas had led the Pacific almost all year until their recent stretch of poor play. Their early success kept them in the race, but with their season practically on the line, the Stars left it in the dressing room instead of on the ice. Dallas head coach Marc Crawford agreed.
"No excuses for us. We got beat and we got beat soundly tonight."
Soundly is a good adjective in this case. San Jose, who has won without really putting together a complete game, played arguably their most perfect match of the season. The power play was effective, the penalty kill was tight, Niemi had a shutout, and the Sharks played well even strength. Every line played a part in the win, a well-rounded offense San Jose has lacked in postseason's past.
In total, there were so many positives tonight that it's hard to run through them individually. Ben Eager had a highlight reel goal and could have had a few others. Couture scored his 31st, while Marleau added two of his own. Boyle scored, Vlasic scored. The defense was solid in front of Niemi. Even recent scapegoats Niclas Wallin and Dany Heatley had strong games. It doesn't hurt that the Sharks effectively knocked Dallas out of the race either.
In reality, the Sharks will have a tough time losing if they keep playing games like this. Of course, it's not always that simple. But if nothing else, tonight's game sure was encouraging.