The San Jose Sharks became the second team from the Western Conference to clinch a berth in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs when the Colorado Avalanche defeated the Minnesota Wild 3-1 at Xcel Energy Center on Tuesday.
It's the 14th time the Sharks (43-22-8), who join the Calgary Flames in the postseason, have qualified for the playoffs in the past 15 seasons. They reached the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 2016.
"It feels good, it means that we've come a long way," forward Logan Couture said. "Not too long ago, I think it was December there, we were going through some tough times as a team, and we weren't anywhere near the top of the conference. It means that we've found our game and played up to our capabilities."
Here are five reasons why the Sharks clinched a playoff berth:
1. Pavelski focused on present
Captain Joe Pavelski can become an unrestricted free agent July 1, but the 34-year-old center hasn't allowed that to be a distraction to himself or the Sharks. He has 63 points (37 goals, 26 assists), tied for second among San Jose forwards with Tomas Hertl and one point behind Couture.
Pavelski is out "a little longer than day to day" because of a lower-body injury, coach Peter DeBoer said.
"It's not easy," DeBoer said of Pavelski, who leads San Jose with six game-winning goals. "To be at that point in your career and go through a year like this and handle it the way he has, he's been exceptional.
"He doesn't even talk about it. It never is discussed; he just goes out and does his business. I think when you have confidence in your own game and what you're capable of doing when you're healthy, you understand that everything's going to take care of itself."
2. Healthy Hertl
Hertl has shown his durability over the past two seasons after a knee injury limited him to 49 games in 2016-17. The 25-year-old forward is having a career season, which includes scoring 30 goals for the first time.
Hertl scored what was an NHL career high 22 goals in 79 games last season.
"I'm very excited about it because I still look at myself more as a passer," said Hertl, who has 31 goals and 32 assists in 68 games. "I think I'm more a passer than a shooter, but lately the goals are going in and I'm happy."
"He just keeps getting stronger as the year goes on," center Joe Thornton said of Hertl. "He's just gotten stronger and stronger, and you can see his confidence every game get bigger and bigger. He's a huge part of this team now."
Video: SJS@MIN: Hertl beats Dubnyk with crafty move
3. Forward depth
The Sharks certainly have weapons up front with Pavelski, Couture, Thornton and Evander Kane, but their ability to roll four lines has played a major role in their success this season.
For instance, Timo Meier had five multigoal games by March 11, and Melker Karlsson became the 10th Sharks forward to get at least 10 goals when he had scored twice in a 5-2 win against the Chicago Blackhawks on March 3.
"I think on a nightly basis, we've had other guys step up and contribute," Couture said. "Our scoring up front has come from every single line, and that's what you need."
4. Success at 'Shark Tank'
San Jose has stumbled of late at SAP Center, losing three straight games, but it has been long established as one of the more intimidating places to play in the NHL. Even with their current skid, the Sharks are 23-8-5 at home this season.
5. Special teams
It's no secret what having strong special teams can mean in the playoffs, and the Sharks are primed to enter the postseason with the sixth-ranked power play (24.1 percent) in the NHL.
Naturally, defenseman Brent Burns is a key component on the man-advantage. He leads San Jose with 26 power-play points (six goals, 20 assists) and is one of three Sharks players to have at least 20 points on the power play, joining Pavelski and defenseman Erik Karlsson, who have 20 each. Pavelski (11) and Hertl (10) have each scored at least 10 goals this season with the man-advantage.
Five of Burns' Sharks-leading 75 points have come shorthanded.