SAN JOSE -- The playoffs apparently can't come soon enough for the surging San Jose Sharks.
The Sharks routed the Minnesota Wild 6-1 on Thursday night at HP Pavilion as they took another step forward in their playoff push. Logan Couture and Martin Havlat each scored two goals, Raffi Torres had his first goal as a Shark, and Joe Pavelski notched his 14th goal of the season. Antti Niemi made 27 saves to earn his League-leading 23rd win. .
The six goals matched the Sharks' season high -- they beat the Edmonton Oilers 6-3 in their second game of the season -- and the five-goal margin of victory was their biggest of the season.
"I think we're going in the right direction now," Couture said. "You always want to be playing well going into the playoffs."
San Jose has 55 points and remained in fifth place in the Western Conference race. The Los Angeles Kings, a 2-1 winner against the Columbus Blue Jackets, also have 55 points but are fourth because they have more non-shootout wins.
"We all feel comfortable," Sharks captain Joe Thornton said. "We all like where our game is. We can still improve in some things and we still got some games in the regular season to win. But, yeah, we keep getting better. It's a perfect time for that."
Pierre-Marc Bouchard scored for the Wild, who fell to seventh in the West with 51 points, one behind the St. Louis Blues. The Wild have two days to regroup before opening a three-game homestand Sunday against the Calgary Flames.
"We didn't deserve anything today," said Minnesota goaltender Niklas Backstrom, who gave up five goals on 27 shots before being pulled. "We know we can play a lot better than that. We weren't playing well at any point of the game today. We have to get back to basics and do the small things right. We have to get back to playing our game. If we play the right way, we'll be fine.
"Sunday is the biggest day of the season for us. We have to make sure we get better by then."
The Sharks took a 3-1 lead into the third period and ended all doubt about the outcome when Torres and Pavelski scored goals 22 seconds apart. Torres scored on a wraparound at 3:59, and Pavelski scored from the slot after taking a pass from Torres.
"It feels good," Torres said of his first regulation goal since coming to San Jose from the Phoenix Coyotes in a trade deadline deal -- he did have a shootout winner Tuesday night against Los Angeles. "It looked like we had a great team game tonight, from the goaltender right up to the forwards. It's nice to contribute. You don't really feel a part of it until you get some numbers, until you put one in the back of the net. So tonight was a good night."
After Pavelski's goal, Wild coach Mike Yeo pulled Backstrom; Couture greeted backup Darcy Kuemper by scoring from the slot at 9:15 to complete the scoring.
"There's not much to say. Even at this point in the season we're still trying to work to get better as a team," Yeo said. "Regardless, it's a loss whether it's 2-0 or 6-1. From the first period on, we just weren't defending."
Couture entered the game with 17 goals, tied with Patrick Marleau for the team lead, and left with a team-best 19. He also an acrobatic play that led to San Jose's third goal after Minnesota had cut the Sharks' lead to 2-1 in the second period.
Backstrom pursued the puck behind his goal and tried to clear it to his left, along the boards. But Couture jumped up, knocked down the pass and quickly got the puck to Havlat in the low slot. Havlat scored before a scrambling Backstrom could get back into position.
"Just athletic, smart, great execution," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said of Couture's play. "The way he's been playing lately he's driving our bus right now. He's the head guy and he's making it happen and we're happy for him."
The line of Couture, Havlat and Marleau had a huge game. Couture had the first four-point game of his career. Havlat had three points and Marleau two. That line also matched up against Minnesota's top line of Mikko Koivu, Zach Parise and Charlie Coyle and held it to no points.
"Marty was great tonight, and obviously Patty has the speed," Couture said. "I got one on the power play there. We were against Koivu's line all night, and when we're playing top lines we take it as a challenge. It was fun. We enjoyed it."
Havlat had his first multi-goal game since March 17, 2012, when he had two goals, including the game-winner, in a 3-2 overtime victory against the Detroit Red Wings. This time he scored twice against his former team; the Wild traded him to the Sharks for Dany Heatley on July 3, 2011.
"They're a great team," Havlat said of the Wild. "Tonight we had some lucky bounces, especially on my [first] goal. We'll take that and we're happy we got two points."
The Sharks took a 1-0 lead at 7:42 of the first period when Havlat banked a cross-ice pass from the right circle intended for Couture off Koivu's stick and past Backstrom.
"We didn't execute the way we wanted, and they were able to keep the puck deep," Koivu said. "We had too many turnovers. We're frustrated right now, and we can't start thinking about three games at once. We have to be focused on the game in front of us. We need to get better."
A minute before Havlat scored against his former team, Minnesota had a great chance to take the lead. Jason Pominville, in his first game against the Sharks since coming to Minnesota in a trade-deadline deal, came in on a breakaway and ripped a shot from the low slot, but it hit Niemi in the body and bounced harmlessly away.
"I think Nemo saving that breakaway on Pominville early, that could have been a different scenario there," Thornton said. "He stood tall."
Couture gave San Jose a 2-0 lead with a power-play goal at 5:29 of the second with defenseman Clayton Stoner in the penalty box for holding Havlat. Minnesota answered quickly with Bouchard's breakaway goal at 9:44 of the period, cutting San Jose's lead to 2-1. Bouchard shot past Sharks defenseman Matt Irwin and Pominville hit him with a long outlet pass. Bouchard beat Niemi with to the glove side with a backhander.
|Marty Havlat (6) ASST: Logan Couture (14), Patrick Marleau (12)|
1 - 0 SJS
|PPG - Logan Couture (18) ASST: Patrick Marleau (13), Joe Thornton (32)|
2 - 0 SJS
|Pierre-Marc Bouchard (7) ASST: Jason Pominville (20), Tom Gilbert (8)|
2 - 1 SJS
|Marty Havlat (7) ASST: Logan Couture (15)|
3 - 1 SJS
|Raffi Torres (6) ASST: Joe Pavelski (14)|
4 - 1 SJS
|Joe Pavelski (14) ASST: Raffi Torres (11), Jason Demers (2)|
5 - 1 SJS
|Logan Couture (19) ASST: Marty Havlat (9)|
6 - 1 SJS
|Clayton Stoner Holding against Marty Havlat|
|Kyle Brodziak Roughing against Scott Gomez|
|Kyle Brodziak Misconduct|
|Scott Gomez Roughing against Kyle Brodziak|
|Scott Gomez Misconduct|