The Minnesota Wild clinched a Stanley Cup Playoff berth with a 6-3 win against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center in San Jose, California, on Saturday.
Minnesota (31-13-3) got the win it needed to secure its place as one of four qualifying teams from the eight-team Honda West Division. It will be their eighth playoff appearance in the past nine seasons.
"[It's] nice to not have to wait until the last week," Wild captain Jared Spurgeon said. "Not that the games don't mean anything for the rest of the season, but just to know that you're in a position and that you're in the playoffs.
"But that's just the first step of what we want to do. It was nice to do it tonight, for sure."
Kirill Kaprizov extended his goal streak to five games, and Kaapo Kahkonen made 27 saves for the Wild, who have won seven in a row.
Minnesota moved within one point of the second-place Colorado Avalanche having played two more games. Colorado and the West-leading Vegas Golden Knights are the three teams to have clinched a berth this season.
"There's not one of us who doesn't think we can't be No. 1 in our division," Wild forward Marcus Foligno said. "It's still in reach (five points behind Vegas). … There's great teams in our division, but we've had success against them (4-1-1 vs. Vegas, 3-5 vs. Colorado)."
Joachim Blichfeld scored his first NHL goal for San Jose (18-24-5), which has lost eight straight and is sixth in the West, six points behind the fourth-place Arizona Coyotes, who defeated the Los Angeles Kings 4-0 on Saturday.
Martin Jones allowed three goals on eight shots in the first period and was replaced by Josef Korenar, who made 15 saves.
"The start was a disaster," Sharks coach Bob Boughner said. "Right from the first shift, the first goal. We're fighting for our lives, and to be down 1-0 on the first shot of the game was a horrible goal. I think it took some wind out of our sails, but that's an excuse as well. You have to be able to rebound, you've got 59 more minutes to play, and I don't think we did a good job at coming back from that adversity.
"You need saves at the right time in the game and we didn't get them early, and now you're chasing the game. You'd love to come out of that tied or leading after one and build your game and keep getting better, but we didn't get the chance to do that."
Video: MIN@SJS: Suter beats Jones with a wrist shot
Ryan Suter scored 19 seconds into the first period with a snap shot on the short side to give the Wild a 1-0 lead.
Foligno made it 2-0 at 12:00 off a pass from Joel Eriksson Ek, and Spurgeon extended the lead to 3-0 at 17:43 with a wrist shot from the right circle.
Kevin Fiala increased it to 4-0, batting in a rebound at 19:10 of the second period. He has scored six points (three goals, three assists) in a four-game point streak.
Logan Couture cut it to 4-1 at 1:19 of the third period on a rebound. The goal ended a 16-game drought for Couture, who last scored March 22.
"We've been falling behind by one, two, three [goals] pretty quickly. You can't wait and only play 20 minutes, and that's what we did tonight, only played 20 minutes the right way," Couture, the Sharks captain, said. "… Just wish that we showed up and played better from the drop of the puck.
"… Nothing really to be proud of tonight for us in that room. We got nine games left, we've got to play a lot harder than we did tonight."
Video: MIN@SJS: Couture cleans up rebound on his knees
Kaprizov scored a power-play goal from the point at 4:28 to make it 5-1. He has six goals in the streak.
Evander Kane cut it to 5-2 with a wrist shot at 4:47, and Blichfeld, playing his sixth NHL game, brought the Sharks within 5-3 with a snap shot from a low angle at 6:06.
"It was nice to get [the first NHL goal] out of the way," Blichfeld said. "It's something I've been dreaming about since [I was] a young kid, so definitely it was good to see it go in."
Nick Bonino scored into an empty net at 19:38 for the 6-3 final.
"I think we're still chasing the top teams. That's probably the biggest thing right now," Foligno said. "Yes, we did make the playoffs, which is a huge objective of ours starting the season, but we still feel like we can get higher and hopefully catch a team or two. We feel like there's still work to be done. … We're going to work as hard as we can until the final regular-season game and be ready for playoffs."
NOTES: San Jose forward Patrick Marleau moved within two games of becoming the second player to play 1,600 with one NHL team. He would join Gordie Howe (1,687 games with the Detroit Red Wings). … It was the first time in eight games the Sharks scored more than two goals. … Jones has been pulled from a start eight times this season. … Wild defenseman Jonas Brodin played his 600th NHL game. … Eriksson Ek extended his NHL career-high point streak to five games (two goals, three assists). … Kaprizov's five-game goal streak is the longest by a rookie in Wild history. … Bonino had a goal and an assist and has scored 11 points (three goals, eight assists) in the past seven games. … Spurgeon had a goal and an assist to give him 299 NHL points in 699 games. … Minnesota won the season series 5-2-1. San Jose was 3-5-0.
Video: Wild clinch a playoff berth with 6-3 win over Sharks