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Sharks coming together at perfect time

by Tal Pinchevsky

NEW YORK -- With one month remaining in the regular season, numerous teams across the NHL are moving up and down in the standings, jockeying for position as the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs approach.

Through it all, the San Jose Sharks are doing what they always do: winning games and readying themselves for a deep playoff push.

With a 1-0 win against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, the Sharks tied the Anaheim Ducks for first in the Pacific Division, though the Ducks hold one game in hand. It's an impressive climb up the standings considering the Sharks sat nine points behind Anaheim at the end of January. If they overtake Anaheim and finish atop the Pacific, it would be their fifth division title in seven seasons.

"We're coming together as a team. We feel like we're a team. We've been on the road so much this year that we've really bonded well. We love playing hard for each other," captain Joe Thornton said. "We've got a lot of attention now. We're tied for first in our division. We're not coming on any teams by surprise. They know we have a good team here."

With six straight wins and an 11-2-1 record since closing out January with three straight losses, the Sharks are doing more than just coming together -- they're readying themselves for another big playoff run. The franchise still has yet to make the Stanley Cup Final, but the Sharks have made the playoffs 14 times in the past 15 seasons and lost in the Western Conference Final in consecutive years in 2010 and 2011. After losing 2-1 to the Los Angeles Kings in Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinal last year, the Sharks are looking to go even further in 2014.

"I don't think anything has to be said with this group. We've all been here before. We have all had long playoff runs. So we know how important the last 15 games of the season are to lead into the playoffs," forward Logan Couture said. "We have to be on top of our games and things have been going well."

Even with their hot play of late, the Sharks could conceivably improve by the end of the season. Forward Raffi Torres, who missed most of the season following pre-season knee surgery, has been out with soreness after collecting five points in five games. He could be back in the Sharks lineup soon. Rookie Tomas Hertl is also working his way back from knee surgery after taking the League by storm with 15 goals in 35 games. Defenseman Brad Stuart has been out since Feb. 7 with an upper-body injury and could also be back at some point.

"We haven't been fully healthy all year, as we still aren't," Couture said. "So our guys have stepped up and played well. We'll hopefully get Raffi soon and he'll help."

Those players could come in handy for the Sharks, who play the Ducks twice in their final 13 games. If San Jose hopes to win another division title, they'll likely have to go through Anaheim to do it. But for a veteran-laden team with plenty of postseason experience, this will ultimately be about what they do once the regular season ends.

"We're trying to put ourselves in a position to give ourselves that chance [in the playoffs]," forward Joe Pavelski said. "It's about how we handle it then."

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