With only a handful of games left in the season, the reality of the playoff situation has become unavoidable for most teams. Calgary, who only has six games left to play after tonight's match, is no exception to that reality.
The Flames, who have had a tumultuous season to say the least, needed two points tonight to keep their playoff hopes alive. Torrey Mitchell and the Sharks had little sympathy for their cause.
The pulse for Calgary's season hasn't flatlined yet, but the heartbeat is almost inaudible. San Jose got points from thirteen different players, including two goals from both Torrey Mitchell and Patrick Marleau to lead the team to a win against a Western Conference rival, effectively killing the Flames playoff hopes.
For Patrick Marleau, the points should be expected. For Torrey Mitchell though, goals haven't been as easy to come by over the last two years. Since his ten goal campaign in his rookie season, Mitchell had only scored six goals in the last two years. In the last seven games, however, the speedy Mitchell has five goals and has teamed with Joe Pavelski and Kyle Wellwood to make the Sharks' third line one of the most dangerous in the league over the last month.
Joe Pavelski, who earned the NHL's first star for his play over the last week, continued his blistering streak of success with two assists. He's been the catalyst for the Sharks' run lately, and has caught fire as the team approachesd the playoffs.
It's not just Pavelski who has been hot recently. In fact, the Sharks as a unit have improved as the season has progressed. They're getting healthy at the right time, too. Logan Couture, who left the St. Louis game with what seemed like a scary injury, came back just a few days later to score his 28th of the season. Dan Boyle, who also returned after an injury scare of his own, has once again solidified the Sharks defensive unit.
Yes, the 6-3 loss in Chicago remains a blemish on the otherwise impressive stretch. Still, the Sharks have scored three goals or more in each game since then, including three efforts in excess of five as the season comes to a close.
And as the season comes to a close, the same question remains: Will this be the year for the Sharks?
Some have thought that San Jose hasn't faced enough adversity during the regular season, and that may have been the case in past seasons. This year, however, the Sharks have had to fight from opening day and as the season has started to dwindle. So far, they have been up to the challenge. That could pay dividends in the playoffs.
Tonight's game is no exception. Although Antti Niemi has been incredible in nets for his team since 2011 began, he had an off night tonight against Calgary. Even still, the Sharks were able to overcome that weakness and excel in other aspects of their game. That's been the story of the year for San Jose; although things may not all click at the same time, the Sharks have been able to adjust their game to overcome their deficiencies. That's the game teams have to play in the postseason.
With the win tonight, the Sharks regain their three point division lead over the Phoenix Coyotes with a game in hand. San Jose also moves to within a single point of the second place Red Wings, who lost 2-1 in regulation to the conference leading Canucks.
No matter where the Sharks end up when the playoff picture is finally determined, they look like a team who is poised to make a strong run.