Finishing first in the Pacific Division may be a longshot, but the San Jose Sharks certainly are playing well enough to get there.
The surging Sharks seek their season-high tying fifth straight home victory when they complete their season series against the last-place Phoenix Coyotes on Friday night.
San Jose (47-26-4) and Dallas are six points behind Pacific Division-leading Anaheim, but the Stars have two games in hand while the Sharks have one on the Ducks. Anaheim plays three of its final four games on the road while the Sharks are home for four of their final five contests, including a key matchup with on Wednesday with the Ducks.
"We would like to catch Anaheim and if we win the rest of our games we have a really good shot at doing that," Sharks rookie defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic said on the team's official Web site. "By the time we play them next week, it could be for all the marbles."
The Sharks returned home from a four-game road trip Tuesday and clinched a playoff berth with a 3-1 victory over Los Angeles. Captain Patrick Marleau scored twice and defenseman Christian Ehrhoff had a career-high three assists for San Jose, which is 9-1-2 in its last 12 games overall.
"The team has been playing well the last few games, playing a playoff style," Marleau said. "We have to get used to that."
San Jose last won five straight at home from Nov. 4-25. If it's unable to catch Anaheim, though, it could finish as high as fourth in the Western Conference or as low as eighth. Seven teams have already clinched playoff berths, with Calgary to likely join them.
The top players on the Sharks all are playing very well, a good sign heading into the postseason.
Joe Thornton has five goals and 13 assists in his past eight games while Marleau has three goals and seven assists in his last 10 contests. Jonathan Cheechoo has nine goals and seven assists in 12 games and Bill Guerin has eight goals in eight contests.
Although Evgeni Nabokov was pulled from his start against Carolina on Saturday, he is 7-0-2 since his last regulation loss on March 2. Backup Vesa Toskala, though, has better career numbers against the Coyotes, going 8-2-1 with two shutouts and a 2.25 goals-against average.
Phoenix (29-43-5) is tied with Chicago for the fewest points in the West and will miss the playoffs for the fourth straight season.
The Coyotes scored three third-period goals, but lost 4-3 at home to Colorado on Thursday.
Curtis Joseph was pulled in the second period after allowing four goals on 14 shots. Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky said Joseph, who has 444 wins and is three shy of tying Terry Sawchuk for fourth on the career list, will start this game.
"It wasn't a case of it being Curtis' fault," Gretzky said. "It was more a case of it being 4-0 and trying to get him a rest and let him start fresh tomorrow."
It was the third straight defeat and 13th in 15 games for Phoenix, which could finish with the franchise's lowest point total since Winnipeg had 39 in the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season.
The Sharks have won three straight against the Coyotes, outscoring them 14-4. San Jose has won five of this season's seven meetings, with reigning MVP Thornton collecting three goals and 11 assists.