SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) - The Phoenix Coyotes' mastery of the San Jose Sharks is laughably implausible to Mike Johnson, who scored three points in his team's latest demolition of its Pacific Division rival.
The Sharks aren't chuckling, however. Unless they figure out why Phoenix owns them, they might pay for it by missing the playoffs.
Steven Reinprecht scored his tiebreaking second goal on a power play early in the third period, and the Coyotes again demonstrated their mastery over the Sharks with a 5-2 victory Thursday night.
Johnson had a third-period goal and two assists for the Coyotes, who won for the sixth time in eight games. Curtis Joseph made 27 saves as Phoenix held the Sharks scoreless in the final 44 minutes of its fifth win over San Jose in six meetings this season.
"No, it doesn't make any sense why we do so well," Johnson acknowledged. "They have a great team. Somebody (might say) they have a better team than us. There's no magic answer, or we'd be doing it against every team. By no means do we have their number, but something's working."
Oleg Kvasha also scored and Mike Comrie added an empty-netter for Phoenix, a nearly insurmountable 14 points out of a playoff spot with nine games left. But coach Wayne Gretzky's team still seems eager to spoil the postseason dreams of the Sharks, who remained in ninth place in the Western Conference, four points out of a spot.
"How do you figure it?" Gretzky asked. "There's really no way to put a finger on it, but we've had a couple of games where our goaltenders stole a couple of wins for us, and we've had other games where we played well, but I don't have an answer. All I know is that we've played pretty hard against this team."
And the Coyotes are no strangers to mysteriously one-sided rivalries, either: They've lost seven of eight to Anaheim this season.
Milan Michalek and Steve Bernier each had a first-period goal and an assist for the Sharks, who already would be in the playoff picture without such a dismal record against the Coyotes. Patience isn't quite running short in San Jose, but the players are aware they're running out of chances to save their disappointing season.
The Sharks have 10 games left to make up playoff ground on the three teams - Anaheim, Vancouver and Edmonton - occupying sixth place in the conference directly above them.
Alas, two of those games are against Phoenix, including Saturday night's rematch in San Jose.
"They always play us hard," captain Patrick Marleau said. "They haven't taken any games off against us, and it's obvious that we have."
The Sharks returned quickly from a five-game trip with a dismal effort - and they got a scare when Jonathan Cheechoo left the ice limping in the third period after getting hit in the thigh with a slap shot during a San Jose power play. Cheechoo, who already set the franchise record with 45 goals this season, briefly returned later in the period.
Evgeni Nabokov was shaky again, stopping 23 shots in just his third start in 12 games for the Sharks, who rested Vesa Toskala. San Jose's defense made mistakes at critical times, and Phoenix capitalized.
"They were really important points tonight, and we let them slip away," defenseman Scott Hannan said. "We've got to come out with more intensity from the first shift. I haven't played the way I need to play, and I have to step it up."
Up 2-1 in the second period, San Jose couldn't cash in on a two-man advantage. Moments later, Reinprecht capitalized on a turnover for his 17th goal.
"We looked like we didn't have much energy tonight," Sharks coach Ron Wilson said of his club, which played at Columbus on Tuesday night. "As the game wore on, they maintained their energy, and ours had been sapped about halfway through the game."
Reinprecht - a burgeoning star after joining the club in a trade with Calgary last month - struck again in the third, roofing a backhand off a cross-ice pass from Shane Doan. Johnson added his goal midway through the third, stealing Joe Thornton's pass and skating the length of the ice to beat Nabokov.
Notes: Reinprecht has 11 points in his last six games. ... Sharks C Alyn McCauley sat out with an undisclosed lower-body injury, ending his streak of consecutive games played at 169. ... San Jose's Scott Thornton and Phoenix's Josh Gratton fought after Bernier's goal, with both landing several haymakers.