Evgeni Nabokov and the San Jose Sharks both are out of their slumps.
Nabokov stopped 27 shots for his 50th career shutout as the Sharks clinched a playoff berth by blanking the Dallas Stars 3-0 on Thursday night for their second consecutive win after a six-game losing streak.
The Sharks moved back on top in the Western Conference while looking like the team that had dominated its division for months -- rather than the one that went 0-5-1, including five consecutive road losses, before winning at Minnesota on Tuesday.
"We're a lot better than we were three days ago," Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle said.
Boyle and fellow defenseman Rob Blake scored power-play goals in the second period for San Jose, which officially clinched its sixth straight postseason trip while earning its 100th point in the first of three games at the Shark Tank in four days. Logan Couture added his second NHL goal 7:41 into the third. Only the goaltending of Marty Turco, who made 38 saves, kept the Stars in the game.
"The Sharks played pretty good," Stars coach Marc Crawford said. "They were quick on the forecheck. On our side, we ended up in the penalty box too much."
San Jose is one point ahead of Chicago, which has a game in hand.
The Stars, who are all but assured of back-to-back non-playoff seasons for the first tine since 1987 and 1988, are 12th in the West -- nine points behind eighth-place Detroit with eight games remaining.
Nabokov, who has struggled since the Olympic break, made a handful of stunning saves during his third shutout of the season. He took each of the Sharks' five regulation losses during their skid, giving up 19 goals and worrying San Jose fans about his playoff readiness.
"He made some big saves," Boyle said. "It was a great night for him."
Nabokov has 39 victories to tie Los Angeles' Jonathan Quick and Phoenix's Ilya Bryzgalov for the second-most in the League behind New Jersey's Martin Brodeur, who has 40.
“It's great to see Nabby take it down, only one goal against in the last two games, and played extremely well," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said.
Nabokov said having his team playing the way it can was more important than his own milestone.
"Getting ready for the playoffs is what's important," he said. "That's what we want to do. I thought this was a great example of how we can play -- we don't have any turnovers, we almost don't have any odd-man rushes. I think that's very important for us.
"I don’t know if this one is special. I wanted to get it out of the occasion, and move on. I think it’s more important for everyone, the way we played."
Dallas was 9-2-1 in its last 12 visits to San Jose and had won both times this season in shootouts, but was unable to overcome Nabokov's goaltending and its open penalty troubles.
After a scoreless first period, Boyle scored with a shot from the point at 3:29 of the second, just 9 seconds after Mark Fistric was called for holding. Turco was thoroughly screened by Devin Setoguchi, allowing Boyle to score for his 400th career point.
Blake made it 2-0 at 6:13 on the Sharks' second advantage, jamming in the rebound of Patrick Marleau's shot in the slot. The San Jose captain's goal was his first in 16 games since Feb. 6.
"We ended up in the penalty box too much," said Crawford, whose team gave the Sharks seven power plays while earning only two. "It was a pretty even first period. In the second period, the three penalties we got were fairly significant."
Couture got credit for a goal with 12:19 left in the third period when he pushed a rebound of Setoguchi's shot underneath Turco, and the puck somehow changed direction and went into the net.
McLellan is hoping his team is regaining the form it had before the losing streak.
"We thought we needed to change our game from Minnesota, and obviously we learned something there," he said. "We used that same recipe again tonight and now it’s how long can we hold on to that recipe, and continue playing this way because it is the right way to play.”
Material from team media and wire services was used in this report