This was always going to be something of a transition year for the San Jose Sharks. That doesn't mean they didn't enter it expecting to make the playoffs; on the contrary, their underachievement in 2011-12 stemmed just as much from a run of bad bounces as it did from foundational issues in their play. What the truncated 2013 season really signified, though, was the initial stage of the franchise passing the torch from aging stars Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau to the younger core of Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture.
So it's fitting that the latter two were the ones to mathematically secure the Sharks their ninth consecutive playoff berth, scoring within a thirty-second span late in the third period to transform a 2-1 Dallas Stars lead into a 3-2 Sharks win as San Jose effectively extinguished Dallas' playoff hopes for the second year in a row.
I could talk about Scott Gomez and Raffi Torres connecting on what's surely the most Hispanic goal in NHL history. I could talk about Kari Lehtonen nearly stealing this game with an unbelievable goaltending performance that featured tremendous saves on Justin Braun during a rare 5-on-3 shorthanded breakaway, Marc-Edouard Vlasic on two successive attempts reminiscent of his video reviewed tally against Lehtonen the last time these teams met in San Jose, Andrew Desjardins on a perfect set-up from Joe Thornton and Dan Boyle on numerous occasions. I could talk about how Lehtonen also got some help along the way from a few posts, Trevor Daley and a barrage of missed shots. I could talk about it continuing to befuddle that Scott Hannan is in an NHL lineup, although to their credit the coaching staff converted their defense pairs into sensible ones with the Sharks trailing in the third period. I could talk about Joe Thornton having one of his stronger games in recent memory, blowing Eric Nystrom and Vernon Fiddler out of the water in a protected matchup. I could talk about Pavelski putting the Sharks on his back for much of the final frame, especially after being swapped with T.J. Galiardi on the team's top line, and not quitting even after Couture's goal put the team ahead.
But none of those things seem to matter right now. All that matters is this:
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Joe Pavelski
2nd Star: Kari Lehtonen
3rd Star: Dan Boyle