It's fitting that a Sharks season marred by losses to the league's cellar-dwellers was effectively ended tonight by San Jose becoming the first team to lose in regulation to the conference-worst Arizona Coyotes since February 2nd.. Realistically, the Sharks' playoff hopes died with their March 17th loss in Winnipeg. But a 4-0-1 run over the past week and change provided a glimmer of hope that they could make it to the postseason for an 11th consecutive year, provided they were able to run the table.
No tables will be run in San Jose this spring as tonight's disappointing 5-3 loss in the desert puts a decisive-if-not-mathematical punctuation mark at the end of a dismal campaign. For the first time in over a decade, the Sharks won't make the Stanley Cup playoffs. Despite twice battling back to quickly close two-goal deficits to one-goal margins and attempting 83 shots, the Sharks simply couldn't beat Mike Smith on a slew of scoring chances while a literally sick and tired Antti Niemi provided them with about the performance you'd expect at the other end of the ice given his circumstances.
A flurry of Sharks pressure to start the game was entirely turned aside by Smith, paving the way for Oliver Ekman-Larsson to open the scoring on the power play with the first of his two goal on the evening. Tomas Hertl responded for San Jose, marking the last time the game would be tied. Shane Doan and Ekman-Larsson staked Arizona to a 3-1 lead that was promptly cut into when an impossible-angle shot by Joe Thornton beat Smith to snap Thornton's seven-game pointless drought. A lapse in defensive-zone coverage early in the third period allowed Mark Arcobello to walk in and give the Coyotes a 4-2 lead that Chris Tierney countered with his ninth point in the last nine games. Despite a late power play, the Sharks just could never manufacture that fourth goal and ultimately ceded an empty-netter to Sam Gagner.
The best the Sharks can do is get to 93 points. The Flames will already get to 93 tonight provided they maintain their three-goal lead in Edmonton. The Jets are at 92 and the Kings appear poised to reach that mark as well. It was a fun last-gasp effort by San Jose over the past week but it's time to finally stick a fork in this season.
- Chris Tierney has two points in this game as he continues to be one of the Sharks' best players, period, in the second half of the season. He could have had more than that if not for some spectacular saves by Mike Smith. The deflection goal was huge but his deft zone entry to set up Tomas Hertl's marker was a combination of skill level and confidence that's encouraging to see in the rookie.
- It seems probable the Sharks will announce after the season ends that Joe Thornton has been playing through injury or illness down the stretch here. His underlying numbers are still fine but that line has largely been carried by Joe Pavelski of late while Thornton appears to visibly struggle when handling the puck in a way he never has before. The power play's top unit is a mess without him healthy.
- It goes without saying that the Sharks could have really used Marc-Edouard Vlasic tonight, especially on the penalty kill. In fairness, though, that special team has been a disaster area for San Jose long before Vlasic's injury.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Oliver Ekman-Larsson
2nd Star: Mike Smith
3rd Star: Shane Doan