San Jose’s 6-0 win over Dallas on Thursday night clinched their seventh consecutive playoff berth. But knowing that doesn’t mean the remaining five regular season games, starting with tonight’s game against Anaheim at HP Pavilion, aren’t important.
For starters, the Sharks are playing for home ice advantage in the postseason. They begin play today first in the Pacific Division by three points over Phoenix. They’re also second in the Western Conference and one point ahead of Central Division-leading Detroit.
|Anaheim Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller, left, and Bobby Ryan (9) defend against San Jose Sharks' Joe Pavelski (8) during the fourth period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2010, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot) |
“We still want the best position possible,” center Joe Pavelski
said. “I don’t think there’s one guy who’s taken a deep breath and said, ‘We’re in. This is good enough.’ There’s five games left. There’s good teams chasing us and we want to go in strong.”
“We want to get ready for the playoffs,” center Logan Couture
said. “We’ve been playing playoff-style hockey for a long time now. I thought we played well in the game against Dallas. We want to continue to play that way and get our game going for the playoffs.”
“If anyone’s been paying attention in the locker room,” Coach Todd McLellan said, “the last time we decided to let down was after Christmas and we got absolutely destroyed by L.A. (4-0 on Dec. 27 in San Jose) and never got our game back.” Following that game against the Kings, the Sharks went 2-8, which included a six-game losing streak.
“Individually, they need to make the decision that every shift and every goal is going to be important,” McLellan said. “There’s still a lot to play for.”
The Sharks will also be facing potential postseason foes over the next five games. They have a home-and-home with Anaheim and Phoenix (which concludes the season) and will be playing hosts to Los Angeles on Monday.
“We’re playing good teams going into the playoffs, so it’s a good test,” Couture said. “It’s going to be fun to play against our division rivals the next five games.”
San Jose is 2-1-1 against Anaheim this season. The teams last played on Feb. 2 at Honda Center with the Sharks winning, 4-3.
In that game, the Ducks were without center Ryan Getzlaf, who was out with a facial injury. Also, goaltender Jonas Hiller got chased out of the net after allowing three goals within the first 12 minutes of the game.
Getzlaf, the team’s third-leading scorer, is back, but Hiller has played just once since Feb. 13 due to vertigo. Veteran Ray Emery, who was signed as a free agent in February, has won six straight games, which is one shy of tying the Ducks franchise record held by Guy Hebert. In seven games, Emery is 6-0-0 with a 1.90 goals-against average.
“He’s played so well,” McLellan said of Emery. “He’s created so much confidence in their team. When Hiller went down, there was probably some doubt. But he’s come in and made a difference.”
Anaheim is led by right wing Corey Perry, who leads the National Hockey League with 46 goals. Former Sharks right wing Teemu Selanne doesn’t look like a 40-year-old on the ice as he’s got 28 goals, 23 of them coming in either a tied game or one with a one-goal difference.
Perry is making a late run at a possible Hart Memorial Trophy. He was named the NHL’s First Star for March after scoring 15 goals. Perry is the fifth player to score 15 in a month since January 1997.
“He’s a very good player,” left wing Ryane Clowe
said. “He plays in all situations for those guys and is dangerous short handed. He’s very slippery. He’s not one of those guys who scores all of his goals on the perimeter. A majority of them come from in front of the net and getting dirty.”
While the goal scorers and the goaltender have been getting attention, the defense has quietly kept Anaheim in the playoff race. Free agent Toni Lydman’s plus-33 leads the NHL. In addition, ex-King Lubomir Visnovsky tops all NHL defensemen in scoring with 64 points (16 goals). Visnovsky, who was originally drafted by Los Angeles in 2000, came to the Ducks last March from Edmonton.
“People don’t know that much about Vis because of where we are geographically,” Anaheim Coach Randy Carlyle said. “He doesn’t get all of the fanfare and notoriety that goes with being the top scoring defenseman in the League. We know he plays big minutes for our hockey club, forms a pairing with Lydman that plays against all of the top lines and runs our power play.”
The Sharks will play hosts to Anaheim at 7:30 p.m. and tickets can be found at the HP Pavilion Ticket Office and at www.ticketmaster.com. The contest will be on CSN California, 98.5/102.1 KFOX and www.sjsharks.com