Quick Bites: Sharks still waiting to clinch playoff spot

San Jose falls to Florida, 4-2.

The game between the San Jose Sharks and the Florida Panthers had some playoff implications and unfortunately, it never came to fruition. Instead, the Sharks fell to the Panthers and San Jose will have to wait another day to clinch a spot in the postseason.

There are times that San Jose has been accused of playing down to its competition. It was an obvious risk, since the Panthers are not headed to playoffs and are playing the final games of this season for pride.

However, this game looked like it was more about fatigue than underestimating the Panthers. San Jose has played five games in eight days, including a two-game road trip to Minnesota and Winnipeg over that span.

The score- and venue-adjusted 5-on-5 Corsi (courtesy of Natural Stat Trick) shows that the Sharks had long stretches of puck possession.

And looking at the heat map in all situations, you’ll also see that the Sharks had plenty of chances up close on Panthers’ rookie netminder Sam Montembeault.

Montembeault has played just three NHL games in his career, including the one against the Sharks, going 2-0-1. Last night, he stopped 26 of the 28 shots he faced for a .929 save percentage.

He out-dueled Martin Jones, who stopped 23 shots and finished with an .852 save percentage. Jones let in some weak ones last night, but he also made some great saves.

The game definitely didn’t start the way the Sharks wanted it to — or maybe it did, in a way. Logan Couture took a penalty almost off the faceoff, putting the Panthers on the power play early. The next two minutes really showed why the Panthers are ranked second in the league on the man-advantage. Florida moved the puck well in the Sharks’ zone and many times it looked like San Jose was scrambling to catch up. They did everything they could to keep the puck out of the net and eventually succeeded in killing off the penalty.

The penalty kill really brought the Sharks into the game and they turned up the speed after that. They tossed a number of shots at Sam Montembeault and Melker Karlsson finally broke through at the 7:22 mark.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic tossed the puck cross ice to Karlsson, who crossed the blueline into the Panthers’ zone. Karlsson was pressured by Keith Yandle and fell to his knees, but he kept his legs moving. He popped back up, picked up the puck and put it far side on Montembeault.

The Sharks continued to put the pressure on, but the Panthers would not give up. Former Shark Jamie McGinn scored his fourth goal of the season. McGinn has only played 12 games this season because of a chronic back injury, so he’s doing better than the numbers show.

Jones made the inital save, but he lost the puck in his pads. It sat in the crease for a split second and McGinn swatted it under Jones and into the net to tie the game.

Less than three minutes later, the Sharks reclaimed the lead.

The Sharks’ third line gained the zone. Kevin Labanc stopped the puck behind the net and then rimmed it around to Brenden Dillon. Dillon passed it along the blueline to Justin Braun who looked off the Panthers and then slid it to Labanc above the faceoff circle. Labanc didn’t even settle the puck, he just took a swing. The one-timer beat Montembeault glove side and it was 2-1, Sharks.

San Jose had a couple more scoring chances before the horn sounded to end the first period, but they could not convert. They went to the locker room leading the Panthers 2-1.

In the second, it was Florida that came out ready to play. At 1:25, Dryden Hunt tied things up.

It was a quick play off a faceoff in the neutral zone. The Panthers pushed the puck into the Sharks’ zone and Troy Brower picked it up. He took a couple strides before he passed it to Hunt, who beat Jones. For those Sharks fans keeping count, it was Hunt’s second career NHL goal, after his first came on Sunday against the Detroit Red Wings.

Jones looked like he was a little ashamed he let that one in, but he quickly made up for it. The Sharks began a parade of players to the penalty box. Justin Braun was called for hooking. A minute after they killed that one off, Couture was handed four minutes for high-sticking.

Jones was forced to come up with a number of big saves during the penalty kills, including this one that had a little help from the crossbar.

But when you play a team that’s second in the NHL in power play percentage, you can’t keep giving them chances. The too many men penalty the Sharks took at 18:26 of the second period was the final straw.

On the ensuing power play, Mike Hoffman absolutely blasted a shot from the point that beat Jones. It was his 32nd goal of the season, a career high.

3-2, Panthers.

The Sharks were unable to get the equalizer in the final minute of play. They went to the locker room down by one.

Less than two minutes into the third period, San Jose had the opportunity to tie things up. Jayce Hawryluk was called for interference and San Jose had their second power play of the night. While they had a couple of opportunities, they were unable to finish and the score stayed the same.

Too bad too, because it ended up being the Panthers who scored next.

Hoffman executed a perfect give and go with Vincent Trocheck which gave Hoffman room to maneuver. He drove right up to the crease in front of Jones and then dished it off to Frank Vatrano, who tipped it in. 4-2, Panthers.

The Sharks pulled Jones at the end of the period and even received a power play toward the end to give them a 6-on-4 for a short period of time. Despite the two man advantage, they couldn't get that third goal.

The Panthers head to Southern California next to take on the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday and the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday.

The Sharks continue their homestand on Saturday when they play the Nashville Predators.