SAN JOSE -- No one has to tell the surging San Jose Sharks where they stand in the Western Conference playoff race.
"We see the standings every day in our lunch room and things like that," Sharks captain Joe Thornton said after San Jose's 4-2 win Wednesday night against the Minnesota Wild at HP Pavilion. "We want to catch teams. Most of the teams we've been playing lately have been ahead of us. We're trying to hunt teams down and secure a good spot in the playoffs."
The Sharks won their sixth straight game, remained perfect on their current homestand and moved into fifth place with 44 points, one more than the Los Angeles Kings.
Martin Havlat, Dan Boyle, Thornton and TJ Galiardi each scored a goal as the Sharks continued the NHL's longest current winning streak. They are one shy of their season-best seven-game streak, which came at the start of the season. The Sharks are 5-0-0 on their seven-game homestand with games remaining against the Calgary Flames on Friday and the Dallas Stars on Sunday.
"We have to make a move," Boyle said. "We got to start catching some teams and we have to start separating ourselves from that final playoff spot. We’re doing good things. But we saw last month how quickly that can go the other way if you start cheating. We have to keep playing well and keep winning some games."
Charlie Coyle and Dany Heatley scored for the Wild. Goaltender Niklas Backstrom, who stopped all 23 shots in a 2-0 shutout of San Jose on March 23, allowed four goals on 33 shots this time around.
Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi made 31 saves to earn his sixth straight win.
The game turned chippy at times and ended with Heatley – a former Shark -- and San Jose defensemen Marc-Edouard Vlasic trading punches and winding up on the ice. Heatley skated off, bent over and holding his left wrist, in obvious pain. Wild coach Mike Yeo offered no update on his injury but, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, indicated that he'll be out for a while.
"The last shift both teams were cross checking, slashing, slew foot," Vlasic said. "He took a swing at me and missed. I took a swing at him and got him. That’s what it is.
"Just in front the last couple of shifts ... (Joe Pavelski) got slew-footed, I got cross-checked by Heater in front. I gave him a cross-check back. Guys were battling in front. If you’re going to get a cross-check, I assume you can give one back. That’s what happened in the last shift. Unfortunately, I got him in the wrist or shoulder. I’m not sure where I got him. That was not my intent. My intent was just to defend myself."
Minnesota, coming off a 4-1 loss home loss against the St. Louis Blues on Monday, lost two straight games for the first time since Feb. 14. The Wild have lost three of their past four games after a seven-game winning streak. With 44 points, they're deadlocked with the Vancouver Canucks in the Northwest Division.
"That was not good enough against a team doing everything they can to get into the playoffs," Wild forward Zach Parise said. "Our starts are killing us. I think it's a mental thing that we weren't doing a few weeks ago.
"We went on a good streak and when you do that you get too loose. Even the last couple of wins weren't very good. I think it has carried over and we haven't been ready to play. Too many games we've given up the first goal and not playing well in the first period."
The Sharks took a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals by Havlat, a former member of the Wild, and Boyle. They entered the third period with a 3-2 edge after a wacky second.
Coyle and Heatley scored goals 25 seconds apart as the Wild drew even with 10:55 left in the second.
Coyle, a first-round pick by the Sharks in 2010, scored on a 2-on-2 rush, threading a pass ahead to Parise and banging the rebound into a wide-open net from close range after Parise's shot bounced off of Niemi. Heatley then made the Sharks pay for a turnover in their zone, ripping a slap shot from above the left circle that beat Niemi to the far side.
The Sharks went ahead to stay with 5:18 left in the second, when Thornton banked the puck off Minnesota defenseman Clayton Stoner's skate and into the net after a turnover by Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon.
"You just want to funnel pucks close to the net," Thornton said. "You never know what can happen. That was just the case there."
Did Thornton call bank?
"No. I was due for a lucky bounce," he said, laughing.
Galiardi got some rare time on the power play and scored with the man advantage 6:55 into the third period to give the Sharks some breathing room. Brent Burns, another former member of the Wild, ripped a shot from near the blue line into a mass of bodies in front of the net; Galiardi knocked in the loose puck, with Havlat and Scott Gomez getting assists.
"It kind of caught me off guard when they threw me out there," Galiardi said. "There is so much talent out there, just go to the net and it worked out for me. (Ryan) Suter gave me a nice little cross-check from behind and then called me an (expletive). It was sitting right there for me after that. As long as you stick around, you get lucky."
Havlat put the Sharks ahead 1-0 just 1:34 into the game, taking a pass from Thornton and beating Backstrom with a laser from the left circle. Burns ignited the early offense. He won a battle for the puck with Heatley along the left boards, made a rush toward the net then dropped a pass to Thornton, who hit a wide-open Havlat.
Boyle made it 2-0, going coast-to-coast to score an unassisted, 5-on-3 power-play goal fit for the Sharks' season-highlight film. Boyle headed straight up the middle, built up speed, then sidestepped Suter inside the blue line. At that point, there was nothing but open ice between Boyle and Backstrom. He faked right, went left and beat the Wild goaltender with a backhand to the stick side.
"I’ve had some good rushes, probably more so in Tampa than since I’ve been here," Boyle said. "My finish hasn’t been so good. I’ve had a lot of highlight rushes but I never seem to finish it with a goal. It was nice to put it away and get a little momentum for our team.
"Obviously he’s a great defenseman and he doesn’t get beat too many times," Boyle said of Suter. "Probably not something that happens for him very often."
San Jose went on the power play when Kyle Brodziak was sent to the penalty box for hooking at 3:55. Just over a minute later, Stoner joined him in the box after sending the puck over the glass and drawing a delay of game penalty. Seventeen seconds later, Boyle scored.
"It's been tough for a couple of games now," Backstrom said. "We have a system that works. We have to get back to the details and doing the right thing. We have to be better with the puck and get a chance to play more in their end."
The Sharks dominated the first period and had a chance to build a much bigger lead than just two goals.
Sharks forward Patrick Marleau ripped a shot from the right circle that pin-balled off Backstrom's glove, the right post and the crossbar before bounding away from the crease.
Galiardi had a breakaway after intercepting a poor cross-ice pass from Stoner deep in the Wild's zone, but Backstrom made a poke save. With less than three minutes left, Burns took a pass from Thornton and got the puck past Backstrom, but Suter swiped it out of the blue paint before it could trickle over the goal line.
The Wild had only 11 forwards available Wednesday night after their blockbuster trade that sent Johan Larsson to the Buffalo Sabres as part of a package for Jason Pominville, who didn't have enough time to get to San Jose for the game. Center Matt Cullen also missed the game with a lower-body injury, so defenseman Nate Prosser filled in as the right wing on the fourth line, ex-Shark Torrey Mitchell's normal spot.
The Sharks made a pair of deadline deals Wednesday, acquiring forward Raffi Torres from the Phoenix Coyotes and defenseman Scott Hannan from the Nashville Predators -- neither one was available to play against Minnesota. They also signed rookie defenseman Matt Irwin to a two-year contract extension through the 2014-15 season and activated Tim Kennedy (upper body) from injured reserve, though he didn't dress.
The Wild recalled goaltender Darcy Kuemper from Houston of the American Hockey League to back up Backstrom after sending goaltender Matt Hackett to Buffalo in the Pominville deal.
After all that off-ice action, the puck dropped.
"I think it was more emotional than physical," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said of the game. "There were some battles and that kind of stuff, but it was emotional. It gets right down to the end where it's 6-on-4. Competitive teams, competitive players on both sides. Two teams that are close in the standings. An emotional time for both teams, trade deadline and a lot going on. It was a hard game, but it was an emotional game."