– Exactly one week ago, Sharks rookie Logan Couture
was being carried off the ice with what appeared to be a serious knee injury. San Jose coach Todd McLellan - away from the team in Saskatoon to attend a family funeral - was frantically calling every number in his cellphone for updated information.
Both of them feel a lot better now.
Couture, back at full strength, scored his 29th and 30th goals of the season and added an assist as the Sharks extended their mastery over the Phoenix Coyotes and maintained sole possession of first place in the Pacific Division with a convincing 4-1 win Saturday.
"To get 30 goals is definitely something I never thought was possible but it's been a great year," said Couture, who moved within one goal of Michael Grabner of the New York Islanders for the lead among rookie goal scorers. "There are nights when the puck's going to find you and I had a chance for three or four tonight. After that first goal, I knew it was going to be a good night.
"It's been a crazy week. When (the injury) happened, I didn't know if I'd be playing right now. Thankfully I am. I've gotten lucky a couple of times that way - knock on wood - and hopefully that continues."
Couture's linemate Ryane Clowe had a goal and an assist, Joe Pavelski extended his scoring streak to seven games with a goal and Antti Niemi was sharp with 26 saves as the Sharks beat the Coyotes for the eighth straight time, including all four meetings this season.
San Jose now leads Phoenix by four points, with a game in hand, although the two teams end the regular season with a home-and-home series on April 8-9. The Coyotes remain in fourth place in the Western Conference with 93 points but their lead over Los Angeles and Nashville, who both won Saturday, was shaved to one point. The Kings have seven games remaining; Nashville has six and Phoenix has five.
McLellan was watching last Saturday's 5-3 win against St. Louis on television from Saskatoon when he saw Couture go hard into the boards and not get up. "I didn't have a very good feeling in my stomach," he said. "I didn't phone one person, I phoned about everybody on the team to find out their opinion. But by the time he left the rink that night he was feeling better and so was I.
"For him to get 30 goals, it's a hell of a reward for a heck of a good season to this point."
Mikkel Boedker scored the only goal for the Coyotes, who were missing three of their top centers in Martin Hanzal, Vernon Fiddler and Lauri Korpikoski -- they had to play Lee Stempniak in the middle and recallRyan Hollweg from San Antonio for his first NHL game since the 2008-09 season to dress enough forwards for the game.
"It was an adjustment we had to make but … I thought we used the injuries as an excuse rather than a motivating factor and that's disappointing," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "At the end of the night you should feel like you left everything on the ice."
The Sharks, who have six players with more goals than any Coyote, exploited the talent disparity with a dominant effort on a night when Phoenix goalie Ilya Bryzgalov visibly struggled with his shot control.
Just 5:06 into the game, Bryzgalov stopped but didn't handle a Clowe shot and Couture steered the second chance around the prone goalie. Couture got his 30th in the third period when his innocent-looking shot from the blue line found its way into the net.
"I felt Bryzgalov wasn't really seeing the puck well tonight - our first three goals were off juicy rebounds and that fourth one was kind of a knuckler and it went straight in. I was surprised as anyone," Couture said. "He's one of the best goalies in the league, he has been the last couple of years, and to get him on a night like this when he's not seeing it … we fired as many as we could on him."
The Coyotes answered 1:17 later when Kyle Turris won a faceoff back to defensemanDerek Morris. His shot from the point hit traffic in front and deflected to Boedker, who buried his fourth goal of the season and second in two games.
But that was it for Phoenix as Niemi made huge saves on Taylor Pyatt,Andrew Ebbett and Eric Belanger while the Sharks had better luck against Bryzgalov.
San Jose took the lead for good 3:35 into the second period when Bryzgalov got enough of aJoe Thornton shot to have it smack off the right post, but the rebound sat in the crease and Pavelski outmuscled Turris to stuff in his fifth goal and 15th point in the last seven games. Clowe made it 3-1 at 15:17 when Bryzgalov stopped a Devin Setoguchi shot but the rebound slid down the slot where first Clowe was waiting.
"Everybody is missing people, it's part of the game, and we've played in that situation before and been fine," Phoenix captain Shane Doan said. "You'd like to have those guys in the lineup but they're not, and that has nothing to do with the way we played."