SAN JOSE – The San Jose Sharks were hoping for a fast start Saturday night against the road-weary Dallas Stars. Joe Pavelski gave them exactly what they wanted.
Pavelski beat Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen with a wrist shot from the slot just 58 seconds after the puck dropped at HP Pavilion, and the Sharks rolled to a 3-0 victory in a game between two Pacific Division rivals fighting to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Pavelski scored two goals, giving him a team-high 31, and defenseman Jason Demers added one on the power play as the Sharks continued their season-long dominance of the Stars. Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi stopped 22 shots and recorded his sixth shutout of the season.
"It was the biggest game of the year for us," Sharks captain Joe Thornton said. "We started well, and I thought we competed hard all the way through. We knew they played last night in Vancouver. It's important to start quick, start early, get our legs moving, and we did and had a good first period."
The Sharks beat Dallas for the fourth time in five games this season, their only loss coming in a shootout on the road. They've won the three games at HP Pavilion by a combined score of 13-5.
In what could be seen as good news for the Sharks and bad news for the Stars, these two teams meet again Tuesday night at Dallas.
The Sharks, who now have 90 points, jumped from ninth place to eighth in the Western Conference standings. The Stars, with 89 points, fell from seventh to ninth as they finished a brutal 1-3-0 road trip.
"Our backs are against the wall," Stars captain Brenden Morrow said. "It was kind of a must win. It's probably three wins or nothing for us now. It is nice to get them again so soon. But if we do what we did tonight, we’re not going to get the result we want."
The Sharks had scored a total of just one goal in back-to-back road losses to Anaheim and Phoenix, but Pavelski quickly found the back of the net against Dallas. Sharks forward Patrick Marleau won a battle for the puck with Stars defenseman Stephane Robidas behind the Dallas net and quickly sent it to Thornton along the right boards. Thornton hit a wide-open Pavelski in the low slot, and Pavelski beat Lehtonen with a shot to the stick side.
"The last few games we've had so many good looks," Pavelski said. "Not just decent scoring chances, but it feels like open nets. You don't score and you keep playing and you keep playing well and then a bounce happens and they get the lead and it's something else you have to fight through. We got the crowd into it early. We came out in warm-ups, the place was full. Everyone knew the importance of the game and it was exciting to have the crowd into it like a playoff game -- because that's what it was."
Both of Pavelski's goals came from in front of the net – he scored in the second on a tip-in, setting a new single-season career high with 31 goals. Throughout the season, he's been making a living either in or close to the blue paint.
"He's a little bit like Gumby," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "He slithers into spots. His sense of timing is really good. We talk about going to the net, but arriving at the net at the right time is probably a little more important than always going to the net. [He] has that knack. He has a great hockey sense. He genuinely wants to improve his game. He looks for ways to do it, he studies it. And then playing with his linemates (Thornton and Logan Couture) certainly helps."
The Stars were coming off a 5-2 loss Friday night at Vancouver and continued their struggles in the second game of back-to-backs, falling to 1-11-2. The last thing they needed was to fall behind less than a minute into the game.
"They got the jump and set us back a little bit right away," Stars coach Glen Gulutzan said. "We have a big game with these guys on Tuesday, and our fate is in our hands. It's got to be the mindset of do or die.
"I was a little worried about this game because we've never been good in back-to-backs. But we are where we are. We still control our own destiny. We don't need anyone else to beat anyone else. We have to win three games and that's it. On Tuesday, we have to bring everything."
The Sharks had three power plays in the first period and finally took advantage on the third one when Demers scored his third goal of the season at 18:38 with Stars forward Steve Ott in the penalty box for interference. Martin Havlat patiently held onto the puck near the right boards, then feathered a cross-ice pass through traffic to Demers, who wristed the puck past Lehtonen from the low circle.
"That was a great pass by Marty," Demers said. "He makes plays like that that not many people can make. I just wanted to reward him for making a pass like that. I found a little spot, and it snuck in."
San Jose outshot the Stars 12-6 in the first period, but nearly gave up a power-play goal when a rebound found Michael Ryder in the left circle with most of the net wide open. But defenseman Justin Braun got his stick on Ryder's shot, deflecting it harmlessly away.
Pavelski made it 3-0 at 9:39 in the second, scoring a 4-on-4 goal. Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic rifled a shot from the blue line, and Pavelski, stationed in front of the net, redirected the puck past Lehtonen.
Pavelski’s two-goal night was his fifth of the season and second in four games -- he scored twice in a 5-1 win over Colorado on Monday. On Tuesday, he’ll try to do it again against the Stars.
"It's one of those teams you like to play against," Pavelski said. "They said it over there, they like to play against us. We feel the exact same way. It's a fun game to play against them, and we've handled it well this year."
As it often does between the Sharks and Stars, the game turned nasty. There were a pair of scraps -- first San Jose's Andrew Desjardins vs. Dallas’ Jake Dowell, then Sharks winger Torrey Mitchell vs. Stars forward Ryan Garbutt. Midway through the third, Ott was hit with a 10-minute misconduct, giving him 147 career penalty minutes against the Sharks, the most by an opponent in San Jose team history.
"They earned the right to enjoy it right now," McLellan said of his team. "Tomorrow it's back to work, and let's keep our focus. I talked before about not letting your guard down, and we have in the past. Let's keep it up. We know we'll have a tougher game in Dallas than we had here tonight."
Sharks defenseman Douglas Murray (lower body) took part in the morning skate but missed his second straight game. Colin White again took Murray’s place in the lineup.
Stars forward Toby Peterson was in the lineup for the first time since Feb. 26, a span of 15 games. Peterson replaced rookie Reilly Smith, who was a healthy scratch after playing his first two NHL games. Dallas defenseman Mark Fistric (abdominal strain) returned to the lineup after missing five games, while Adam Pardy was a healthy scratch.