SAN JOSE, Calif. – One night after losing to Phoenix on the road and blowing a chance to clinch the No. 2 playoff seed in the Western Conference, the San Jose Sharks made amends in the rematch Saturday at HP Pavilion.
San Jose beat the playoff-bound Coyotes 3-1 in both teams' regular-season finale, securing that No. 2 seed with 105 points, three ahead of Detroit. The Sharks will open the playoffs at home against the No. 7 seed, which won't be determined until Sunday.
"You want to play good going into the postseason," Sharks captain Joe Thornton said. "We had a solid game tonight. And yeah, it's important to get as high as you can with the seed you get. We all feel comfortable playing here at home. We've had a good record here as of late at home, too. It worked out pretty good."
Phoenix, which clinched a playoff berth Friday night when it beat the Sharks, could have locked up the No. 4 seed and home-ice advantage in the first round with just one point Saturday after Nashville lost to St. Louis before the puck dropped in San Jose. Instead, the Coyotes slipped to sixth place. And if Chicago beats Detroit on Sunday, Phoenix will finish in seventh and face the Sharks in the first round. If the Coyotes stay in sixth, they'll play Detroit.
"It doesn't really matter," Phoenix forward Lauri Korpikoski said. "It was good to get the win at home against these guys, just for mentally you know you can beat them for sure. Everyone wants the rematch against Detroit. That's no problem. Either way is fine for us."
The Coyotes came into Saturday's game on a 10-2-3 surge, but they had gone 3-9-2 in their past 14 games at HP Pavilion. What's more, the Sharks had defeated Phoenix eight straight times before falling 4-3 on Friday, their second straight loss.
On Saturday, the Sharks got their playoff-ready faces back on.
"It was a very important game for us," White said. "We've got to bounce back from the two previous and get a good mindset going into playoffs. It was a big, important game and we proved to ourselves we're right where we want to be."
The Sharks took a 1-0 lead at 7:11 of the second period when White rifled a shot past Ilya Bryzgalov from the blue line. White's goal capped a relentless Sharks assault that saw them fire shot after shot at Bryzgalov, many of them from close range. White, who on Friday scored his first goal since coming to the Sharks in a midseason trade from Carolina, got a pass from Torrey Mitchell and unloaded, beating Bryzgalov in the upper left corner of the net.
"It seems whenever you get momentum and get some shots off it's a good chance you're going to get the puck back," White said. "That was a great momentum shift for us and fortunately one of them went in."
"The fact that we didn't get the first goal was a big deal," Korpikoski said. "Once they got that goal and got going, we lost a little bit of the momentum. I thought we played all right. We had a few good chances."
San Jose increased its lead to 2-0 at 18:37 of the second on Pavelski's power-play goal from short range, directly in front of the net. Thornton controlled the puck to the right of the crease and feathered a perfect pass through traffic to Pavelski, who banged it home before getting knocked to the ice by Coyotes captain Shane Doan. The assist gave Thornton 1,001 career points.
The Coyotes best scoring chance of the period came shortly before Pavelski's goal, when they stuffed a rebound past Niemi, but the goal was disallowed because the whistle had blown before the shot, even though the puck was loose.
Phoenix cut the lead to 2-1 at 11:24 of the third period when Korpikoski scored on a breakaway after Jason Demers shot from the Sharks' blue line was blocked. Korpikoski beat Niemi with a blast from the left circle, and the Coyotes kept the shots coming.
Eric Belanger whipped a back-hand shot that nearly caught Niemi by surprise. Radim Vrbata launched a rocket from the high slot that Niemi deflected. Ray Whitney tried to jam the puck home, but Niemi smothered it. For the night, Niemi stopped 35 of 36 shots.
"Wow, was he good," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said of Niemi. "When we made mistakes he was there to make some tremendous saves. I thought the guy at the other end, Bryzgalov, was also very good. That's playoff goaltending. Nemo made some incredible saves. There's not many nights on the bench where I turn to the coaches and we're all going, 'Wow,' but he did make some saves."
Couture was the one who finally scored, via the power play. He knocked home a rebound off his own shot with just 1:31 left to play, sealing the win.
"I thought we worked hard and had some good opportunities," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. "We didn't capitalize on them. They capitalized on a couple of power play chances, and that was the difference in the game."
McLellan was just glad to see his team get back on track in its final tune-up for the playoffs after rough losses to Anaheim and Phoenix.
"If you reflect back on our last three games, this was the best we've played," McLellan said. "I thought we picked up players gradually. Didn't have many in Anaheim, a lot of passengers, picked a few more up in Phoenix, and then tonight we found a few more. This was a really good game for us to play in, a tight one, fast. The intensity was there, something we needed to experience this week so that we can get ready for what lies ahead."
The first period ended in a scoreless tie, but it wasn't short of action. The game officially got chippy when the horn sounded, as Demers gave Shane Doan a bump on his way off the ice, and Thornton traded "pleasantries" with a number of Coyotes as the two teams headed off the ice.
Thornton and Coyotes center Martin Hanzal each drew 2-minute penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct for their actions at the end of the first.
The Sharks didn't have their first shot on goal until the 7:36 mark of the first period when Kyle Wellwood fired a long shot that Bryzgalov easily stopped. But by the end of the first, the Sharks held a 12-9 edge in shots on goal.
The Coyotes had a great scoring chance with just under three minutes left in the first when Doan had the puck on a breakaway down the left side. But Demers made an all-out dive and knocked the puck away with his stick, inside the left circle.
"We've come a long way," Thornton said. "We've had to work hard to get where we have. Yeah, it's been quite a year, going from 12th to second. We've had to do a lot of good things to make up that ground and we have, and it's satisfying, but we still have a lot of work to do."
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