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Sharks on roll entering final weeks of season

Western Conference leaders hoping depth, veterans can take them on long playoff run

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

WINNIPEG -- The San Jose Sharks are firing on all cylinders heading into the final weeks of the NHL regular season.

A 5-4 victory against the Winnipeg Jets at Bell MTS Place on Tuesday was San Jose's sixth straight win, keeping the Sharks (43-19-8) in first place in the Pacific Division and the Western Conference. The Sharks have 94 points, one more than the Calgary Flames for the division and conference lead, and are 15-3-1 since Jan. 22.

Forward Joe Pavelski, who scored the game-winning goal against the Jets with five seconds remaining in the third period, said the Sharks are starting to think about the track they might take to bringing the Stanley Cup to San Jose for the first time since entering the NHL for the 1991-92 season.

"Each season is a little unique," said San Jose's captain, who leads the Sharks with 37 goals. "You never know which one's going to go. Obviously that one run (to the 2016 Stanley Cup Final, when they lost in six games to the Pittsburgh Penguins) was the team that maybe we didn't expect quite that, but we had gotten better and better all year, similar to this year.

"We went through a rough patch early, seem to have hit our stride and keep improving and we're getting a lot of contributions. We've got good depth. It's a good team. It's on us to compete every night moving forward and in the playoffs, just bringing that energy, competing and enjoying the game."

Video: SJS@WPG: Pavelski nets go-ahead goal in final seconds

Pavelski said the credit for the surge should be spread around.

"Just good depth, we roll four lines," he said. "We're getting a lot of big nights out of certain lines at times, and everybody's played hard. We've gotten along really well, compete together and we like winning. This group likes winning and we'll try to continue that."

The Sharks have five players with more than 20 goals: Pavelski, Tomas Hertl (31), Evander Kane (27), Timo Meier (26) and Logan Couture (24). Defenseman Brent Burns leads San Jose in scoring with 73 points (13 goals, 60 assists).

Forward Joe Thornton had two assists Tuesday to pass Stan Mikita for 14th place on the NHL's all-time points list with 1,469 (411 goals, 1,058 assists). The 39-year-old has 42 points (14 goals, 28 assists) in 61 games this season.

Thornton said San Jose's depth is making a difference.

"We've got eight good [defensemen]," he said. "We've got 14 good forwards. We've got goalies that win us games. We're a very, very deep group, and that's hopefully going to spell playoff success for us."

San Jose had a seven-game winning streak from Jan. 2-15 but then lost three in a row and allowed six goals in each loss, to the Arizona Coyotes, Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers. The Sharks also gave up six goals in their next game, at the Washington Capitals on Jan. 22, but they rallied for a 7-6 overtime win and things changed from there.

Beginning with the win against Washington, San Jose has won 15 of 19 games and allowed 53 goals in that span (2.79 per game). In their first 51 games, the Sharks allowed 158 goals (3.10 per game).

Video: SJS@WPG: Sorensen buries Thornton's feed for lead

"We were stumbling around a little bit trying to figure out what we were," coach Peter DeBoer said. "We lost our defensive identity and the foundation that really this team has been built on for the last three or four years, which is the ability to defend hard and be hard to play against. And it was costing us games.

"We were spinning our tires. I think we went back and re-established that foundation and the offense takes care of itself. But once we started to defend hard and help our goalies out a little bit, we were a tougher team to beat."

With some critical games coming up against other likely Western Conference contenders, the Sharks will be looking to maintain their momentum.

After the Florida Panthers come to SAP Center on Thursday (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSCA, FS-F, NHL.TV), San Jose hosts the Nashville Predators on Saturday. The Sharks also have home games against the Vegas Golden Knights on March 18 and March 30, and a home game against the Flames on March 31.

The Sharks' most recent streak and surge to the top of the conference has occurred without defenseman Erik Karlsson and Kane. Each has missed the past six games; Karlsson with a groin injury and Kane with an undisclosed injury.

"Two big guys for us that are going to help us once they get back," said forward Gustav Nyquist, who scored two goals against the Jets on Tuesday. "We're happy that we're still going to get some real big-time players back."

Nyquist's goals were his second and third for the Sharks in the seven games since being acquired from the Detroit Red Wings on Feb. 25 for a second-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft and a conditional third-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft.

Video: SJS@WPG: Nyquist buries feed from Hertl

The 29-year-old Sweden-born forward has 19 goals in 68 games this season. He said he's had a smooth transition to the Sharks, one that has made easier by the experienced leadership group, led by Pavelski.

"Real good veteran leader on and off the ice," Nyquist said of Pavelski. "Plays the game at a very high level. I've been fortunate to be around some similar players in my time in Detroit, but these guys are unbelievable role models for younger players in this locker room. We're lucky to have these guys."

DeBoer also pointed to the experienced leadership group as instrumental in San Jose's rise.

"They established the culture there," he said. "It's been over a decade with Jumbo (Thornton) and Pavelski and (defenseman Marc-Edouard) Vlasic and (Burns) and on and on. That culture was there when I got there (for the 2015-16 season) and it's awesome. They hold each other accountable, so you're not having to do that like you do maybe with a young team on a daily basis."

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