While there wasn't much at stake tonight in terms of the standings for either team as the Sharks concluded their regular season schedule against the Coyotes in Glendale, San Jose forward Joe Pavelski entered the game with 39 goals on the season, one shy of becoming just the fourth 40-goal scorer in Sharks history. It didn't take long for him to check off the final box on a successful Sharks season, scoring on the power play just 3:43 into the game to get his milestone.
And he wasn't done there, either, as a one-timer from the left circle with no Phoenix defenders in the vicinity midway through the first period staked the Sharks to a 2-0 lead and Pavelski to a 41-goal season. A Logan Couture between-the-legs deflection past Coyotes goaltender Mark Vistenin early in the third period held up as the game-winner courtesy an impressive performance by Antti Niemi, perhaps re-asserting himself as the Sharks starter heading into the postseason after Alex Stalock capped a terrific campaign in the backup role with a 32-save performance against Colorado last night. Niemi stopped 30 shots en route to a .938 SV% in this one, including difficult stops on Mike Ribeiro (who would later score) and Keith Yandle in the second period, when Phoenix put on a push. He also stoned Shane Doan on a breakaway late in the third to preserve the win.
But the most significant development tonight, far outstripping in importance the two rather meaningless points the Sharks earned by holding on for a 3-2 victory, is that Todd McLellan finally began to tinker with his lines in the third period and, at long last, relieved James Sheppard of his third-line center duties. Tomas Hertl, in his second game back after missing four months with a knee injury, reclaimed his spot on the top line with Joe Thornton and Brent Burns while Sheppard played with Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture on the second line, Marty Havlat skated with Joe Pavelski and Tommy Wingels on the third and Andrew Desjardins and Tyler Kennedy played on the fourth with a revolving door at left wing following a Bracken Kearns injury.
There's no guarantee we'll see those lines the next time the Sharks take the ice in NHL action, which will be Game 1 of their Pacific Division Semifinal series against Los Angeles, and with Raffi Torres likely to return it's a good bet those winger configurations won't stay the same. But the shift to icing Thornton, Couture and Pavelski down the middle is a terrific sign that the coaching staff realizes they need to be at least three lines deep to have a realistic shot at beating L.A. The guys on and behind the bench ended the regular season on a high note. Bring on the Kings.
- Being able to trot out Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl and Marty Havlat as the three forwards on your second power play unit is the kind of luxury the Sharks haven't had in a while, as that second unit has been impotent for several seasons. While they didn't manufacture a goal in this game, they looked dangerous and created chances; more of that in the playoffs, please.
- Tommy Wingels, playing on his 26th birthday, was in beast mode for much of the third period, barreling through Coyotes defenders to create scoring chances for him and his linemates. He was one of the Sharks' most pleasant surprises in this regular season and I can't wait to see what he can do in the playoffs, particularly if he gets to play with Pavelski and Torres on a line that has the potential to kick some serious ass.
- I'm glad Shane Doan isn't going to the playoffs this year. Fuck that guy.
- Chicago's 7-5 loss to Nashville before this game went final clinched the 4th seed in the Western Conference for the Sharks, meaning they'll have home-ice advantage should they meet the Blackhawks in the conference final. Not to count chickens before they hatch or anything but that would be a nice edge to have if the Sharks can make their way through a brutal Pacific Division.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Joe Pavelski
2nd Star: Dan Boyle
3rd Star: Antti Niemi