The San Jose Sharks were 18-18-2 (38 points) and in sixth place in the Pacific Division the morning of Jan. 9. A 7-0 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs that night launched a 23-10-4 run that has the Sharks in third in the Pacific and headed back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
San Jose, which missed the playoffs last season for the first time since 2002-03, clinched its postseason berth with a 5-2 win against the Los Angeles Kings on Monday.
Since Jan. 9, the Sharks' 24 wins are tied for second in the NHL behind the Anaheim Ducks' 25, their 52 points are second to the Ducks' 53, and their 120 goals are first.
Led by coach Peter DeBoer, Hart Trophy candidate Joe Thornton and Norris Trophy contender Brent Burns, the Sharks' mission is far from complete. Two years ago, they blew a 3-0 series lead against the Kings in the Western Conference First Round, and they haven't been past the second round since 2011 and have never played in the Stanley Cup Final.
"It's a good feeling knowing that we weren't there last year," captain Joe Pavelski told the San Jose Mercury News on March 16. "And obviously coming into [training] camp we wanted to get back there. That was first and foremost. The next part is preparing our game. When we do get to the playoffs, we want to be able to make some noise."
Here are five reasons the Sharks clinched:
1. Joe Thornton
At 36 years old, Thornton is enjoying a renaissance season.
His 46 points since Jan. 9 are second in the NHL behind Sidney Crosby. His 55 assists and 73 points lead the Sharks, and he has 25 power-play points.
Video: LAK@SJS: Thornton nets rebound for the lead in 3rd
In San Jose's past 29 wins, Thornton has at least one point, the longest streak since Dany Heatley had a point in 35 straight Ottawa Senators victories in 2005-06, according to CSNBayArea.com.
"He's enjoying it more," forward Logan Couture told CSNBayArea.com. "He's come in with a new coaching staff, and they've been awesome from Day One with everyone, including [Thornton]. He enjoys it. He's having a blast coming to the rink."
2. Scoring depth
Pavelski's 36 goals lead the Sharks and are among the top 10 in the NHL, but the Sharks have received contributions from their supporting cast.
Couture, who has 10 goals and 29 points in 46 games, is a valuable cog in the lineup. Without Couture, who missed 30 games because of a fractured right fibula and surgery to repair a bleeding artery in his right thigh, the Sharks were 14-15-1. With him, they're 28-12-5.
Forward Joel Ward is approaching his NHL career high of 24 goals set last season with the Washington Capitals. Third-year forward Tomas Hertl has set NHL career highs in goals, assists and points. Rookie forward Joonas Donskoi , has emerged as a key second-line right wing.
Video: DAL@SJS: Hertl fires rebound past Niemi
"Any line can score. Any line is dangerous," Thornton said. "Pete does a good job of just rolling lines too. There's no [line] matching; just go out and play. I think guys get in rhythms that way. ... We're a very, very deep team right now."
Veteran Paul Martin, who has a plus-14 rating, has stabilized the defense, especially in the absence of the injured Marc-Edouard Vlasic.
3. Brent Burns
Burns has gone from a solid forward to an elite defenseman. His 69 points broke Sandis Ozolinsh's single-season Sharks record for a defenseman, and his 26 goals are the most by a defenseman since Mike Green scored 31 for the Capitals in 2008-09.
"He has to be up for the Norris," Thornton said. "The guy's unbelievable. He plays in all situations. When he's out there, you feel like something can happen every shift. What a year he's having. Right now, he's playing great hockey."
4. Martin Jones
San Jose solidified its goaltending through two trades. Jones was acquired from the Boston Bruins on June 30, 2015, and then signed to a three-year, $9 million contract.
Video: LAK@SJS: Jones snags Kopitar's shot out of the air
Once Jonathan Quick's backup in Los Angeles, Jones has established himself as the No. 1 goalie in San Jose. In 62 games this season, he's 36-21-4 with a 2.25 goals-against average and .919 save percentage. Among his highlights was a 47-save performance in a 2-1 overtime win against the Calgary Flames on March 7, the most by a Sharks goalie since Evgeni Nabokov had 50 on Feb. 11, 2010.
On Feb. 27, the Sharks acquired James Reimer from the Maple Leafs. In five games since the trade, he's 3-2-0 with a 2.02 GAA and .920 save percentage.
"He's been great," DeBoer said of Reimer. "This guy's a starting goalie in the NHL, and it's a great luxury to have."
5. Road warriors
San Jose's 25 road wins are tied with Washington for most in the League and are two shy of its record for most in a season, set in 2007-08. The Sharks successfully navigated a stretch of 13 of 18 games away from SAP Center following the All-Star break, going 11-5-2.
Six of the Sharks' final nine games, though, are on home ice, where they are 12-6-3 since they were a League-worst 5-12-0 on Jan. 9.