SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) _ The San Jose Sharks examined the Western Conference standings and determined that a victory over Detroit put them in the playoffs.
Nobody else seemed to be able to decipher the complicated scenario _ but given everything they've accomplished in their remarkable comeback season, it's just plain hard to doubt the Sharks these days.
Jonathan Cheechoo scored two goals and Evgeni Nabokov stopped 37 shots, leading the Sharks to a 5-2 victory over the Red Wings on Tuesday night in a meeting of division leaders.
There was no champagne in the San Jose dressing room after a gritty victory over the conference's top team. That's not the style of these Sharks, who still cling to their underdog identity despite a ferocious season.
``Apparently, we're in,'' San Jose coach Ron Wilson said after consulting with his staff. ``It's a great feeling. Our guys have worked really hard. I never would have predicted 94 points, let alone a chance at 100 points.''
A year after plummeting to 14th place in the West, the revamped Sharks are tied with Colorado for second in the conference behind Detroit. San Jose also increased its Pacific Division lead over Dallas to three points.
Scott Hannan and Alex Korolyuk also scored for the Sharks. Vincent Damphousse had a goal and an assist, giving him 1,200 career points.
``We've got about a week and a half to sharpen up our game before the playoffs, and I think we can still get better,'' Damphousse said. ``Getting in (the playoffs) is nice, but we're more worried about first place in our division and staying with Colorado.''
The Sharks got a break during the pregame skate when Curtis Joseph tweaked his oft-injured ankle. Manny Legace had another shaky game in a last-minute start, allowing five goals on just 20 shots.
Pavel Datsyuk and Jiri Fischer scored for the Red Wings, who have just one win in their last five games despite clinching the Central Division during that stretch. Detroit controlled long stretches of play and outshot San Jose 39-20, but Nabokov was back in top form after struggling in a 5-2 loss to Edmonton on Sunday.
The Wings have endured a late-season malaise before, but few have been this frustrating. They've taken 96 shots in their last two games _ but they lost both, allowing 13 goals in the process.
``Nothing is going our way,'' coach Dave Lewis said. ``There's no explaining this. We're having some breakdowns. We out-chanced them, but that didn't give us any goals.''
Cheechoo, the Sharks' second-leading goal-scorer during his breakout season, had his fourth two-goal performance in San Jose's last seven games. The second-year right wing has 27 goals _ more than Brett Hull, Brendan Shanahan or Steve Yzerman, who all struggled to score against Nabokov.
Legace made 15 saves for the Red Wings, who lead the conference with 100 points, but face back-to-back games against Colorado in the next four days _ and Joseph might not be ready.
He injured the same ankle earlier in the season, and its instability could be big trouble in the playoffs. Detroit already lost Dominik Hasek for the season with a nagging groin injury.
``Sometimes I get a pain in (the ankle) for 30 seconds, but it usually goes away,'' Joseph said. ``But this one didn't. ... We took precautions. I've played on it since I came back, and it's felt fine.''
The Sharks are the NHL's best first-period team, and they had yet another fast start with two goals in 1:58 midway through the first period. Hannan scored on a deflected puck, while Cheechoo scored on his own rebound.
|Scott Hannan (6) ASST: Vincent Damphousse (27), Patrick Marleau (26)|
1 - 0 SJS
|Jonathan Cheechoo (26) ASST: Mike Ricci (19), Jason Marshall (5)|
2 - 0 SJS
|Pavel Datsyuk (27) ASST: Brett Hull (38)|
2 - 1 SJS
|Jonathan Cheechoo (27) ASST: NONE|
3 - 1 SJS
|Jiri Fischer (3) ASST: Tomas Holmstrom (13), Mark Mowers (8)|
3 - 2 SJS
|Alexander Korolyuk (18) ASST: Alyn McCauley (23)|
4 - 2 SJS
|Vincent Damphousse (9) ASST: Patrick Marleau (27), Curtis Brown (14)|
5 - 2 SJS
|Brendan Shanahan Slashing against Patrick Marleau|
|Mike Rathje Tripping against Mark Mowers|
|Brad Stuart Holding against Pavel Datsyuk|
|Steve Thomas Slashing against Nisse Ekman|