The San Jose Sharks are making a late push for the Pacific Division title behind a strong offense and stifling goaltending.
The Sharks continue their push for the top spot in the division when they wrap up a four-game road trip Sunday against the Carolina Hurricanes.
San Jose (46-25-4), in fifth place in the Western Conference with 96 points, has outscored opponents 38-10 in going 8-0-2 since March 4. The surge has moved the Sharks closer to first-place Anaheim in the Pacific and they have the luxury of playing five of their final six games at home after this contest.
San Jose's top line continued to play well Thursday in a 5-1 victory over Southeast Division-leading Atlanta. Jonathan Cheechoo scored three goals, Milan Michalek had a goal and two assists, and Joe Thornton had three assists as the Sharks improved to 2-0-1 on the trip.
"My linemates were doing a great job," Cheechoo said. "I like the way our line is made up right now."
Cheechoo has seven goals and four assists in his last five games, while Michalek has five goals and nine assists during a six-game point streak. Thornton, who led the NHL with 125 points last season, has four goals and 16 assists during a season-high nine-game point streak.
Cheechoo and Thornton provided all the goals in San Jose's last game against the Hurricanes, a 4-3 victory on Dec. 10, 2005. Cheechoo had two goals and an assist, while Thornton had a goal and three assists in that contest.
While the Sharks' offense has been overpowering lately, the team's goalies have been just as strong, allowing one goal or less in their last eight victories.
Vesa Toskala made 18 saves on Thursday for his second straight outstanding game after missing more than a month with a groin injury. He stopped 35 shots in San Jose's 3-0 win over Columbus on March 16 in his first game back.
Evgeni Nabokov has been just as impressive for the Sharks lately, going 6-0-2 with a 1.12 goals-against average and three shutouts since March 4. Nabokov has also had success in his career against Carolina, going 5-1-0 with a 1.74 GAA and a shutout.
The Hurricanes (37-29-8) defeated Washington 4-3 on Thursday to win for the third time in four games. The defending Stanley Cup champions are among a handful of teams battling for the final three playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.
Carolina outshot the Capitals 39-10, but trailed 3-2 heading into the third period before rallying behind goals from Eric Staal and Andrew Ladd.
"We had a lot of chances and it was just a matter of time," said Staal, who scored his first goal in eight games. "We got a couple of nice plays to get ahead and it was a nice win."
John Grahame allowed three goals on six shots through 40 minutes and was pulled for Cam Ward at the start of the third. Ward faced only four shots in his first appearance in 11 days since lacerating his knee against the Rangers.
Ward has never faced the Sharks in his career, while Grahame is 3-0-0 with a 1.67 GAA against them.
San Jose hasn't visited Carolina since a 3-0 loss on Oct. 28, 2003.
|Mar 24 '07||SJS 4 at CAR 6|