Fresh off his 100th victory as bench boss of the San Jose Sharks, compliments of an exciting and nail-biting 2-1 win at Colorado on Wednesday night, Sharks Head Coach Ron Wilson had little time to celebrate as the boys in Teal were in Los Angeles tonight and put a big hurt on the Kings playoff chances.
The victory over the Kings vaulted the Sharks into 7th place in the Western Conference, despite being tied with Edmonton (who picked up a point after losing in a shootout at Minnesota tonight) at 89 points. San Jose, by virtue of one more win than the Oilers, owns the tie-breaker at this point.
With each game seemingly the “most important” in franchise history down the stretch, tonight’s contest certainly fit that mold—for both the Sharks and the Kings.
The Sharks entered the game two points ahead of Los Angeles, who have played two more games than the Sharks, making this contest even more important for the Kings playoff lives.
The Kings, who fired long-time coach Andy Murray on March 22 in an attempt to shake things up for the slumping club, lost 6-2 on Tuesday in Anaheim. That loss has dropped the Kings to 3-4 under interim coach John Torchetti.
San Jose started strong as Jonathan Cheechoo netted his team-leading and franchise-record 47th goal of the year, unassisted, off a turnover at the Kings blueline at 3:26 of the first period. Skating down the wing, the Moose Factory, Ontario native let loose a hard, rising laser that beat Kings goaltender Mathieu Garon high to the glove side, putting Cheechoo just a hat trick away from a magical 50-goal season.
The goal seemed to energize the Sharks as they stormed the Kings net, reeling off four quality scoring chances in the ensuing three minutes. During that pressure, Nils Ekman was robbed by a diving Garon and Ville Nieminen rang a shot off the post. Less than two minutes later, with a 7-1 shot advantage on the scoreboard, Patrick Marleau
rang a second shot off the post.
Vesa Toskala started his third game in row, and was sharp in the early going.
The first period ended with the Sharks holding a 1-0 lead and a 13-3 shot advantage, and could have easily put the game out of reach after generating multiple scoring chances.
The Kings opened the second period with a purpose, sustaining a good forecheck and relentless pressure, but the Sharks were up to the task.
The Kings strong play did not result in any goals as the shot differential continued, buoyed by two San Jose power plays. The Sharks were outshooting the Kings 18-6 when Garon stopped Cheechoo from high in the slot off a perfect feed from Joe Thornton
, preserving the 1-0 Kings deficit. Shortly after that exchange, Ekman drove the net, but Garon kicked out his snap shot.
About two minutes later, Garon posted his best save of the night with a pure highlight reel glove save on Marleau. Steve Bernier stripped the puck loose at the Sharks blueline and took off on a three-on-one, with Marleau on his wing. Bernier lifted a perfect saucer pass over a diving Kings defenseman and Garon somehow went post-to-post, in the splits, throwing his glove hand back and behind him to rob the Sharks captain.
The most exciting minute of the second period was the final 60 seconds that saw the Kings get three rapid-fire quality scoring chances, including a point blank shot by Sean Avery which was turned aside by Toskala. Toskala
However, Cheechoo derailed the Kings solid efforts by scoring with nine seconds left off a deft pass from Joe Thornton
. On a face off deep in the Kings end, Thornton faked drawing the puck back to the point, instead, pushing it forward through Eric Belanger’s legs and dishing off to a waiting Cheechoo. He backhanded it past a diving Garon and several surprised Kings defenders.
The Sharks came out strong in the third period, keeping the shifts short to preserve their tired legs. Los Angeles, perhaps dejected by Cheechoo’s late 2nd period goal, did not register a shot on goal for the first 10 minutes of the period. With Alyn McCauley in the penalty box and a chance for Los Angeles to make a game of it, the Kings negated any momentum with three consecutive penalties of their own.
Then the wheels officially came off for the Kings.
Scott Thornton scored his 10th goal of the year, off assists from Nieminen and McCauley just after the Sharks power play ended at 9:40. One minute later, the Sharks found themselves on the power play again. Cheechoo and Joe Thornton
finished off a two-on-one break with Thornton knocking a waist-high rebound of Cheechoo’s shot out of the air with the shaft of his stick. The power play goal was Thornton’s 28th tally of the season. Matt Carle also registered his first career assist on the play.
Late in the contest, Bernier scored his 12th goal of the season and 23rd point in his last 26 games, banging home a rebound on a 5-3 power play. The play started with a pass from Joe Thornton
to Patrick Marleau
, who streaked down the slot and ripped one off the post. The Quebec City native tapped in the loose change.
Despite a last gasp effort over the final few minutes by Los Angeles, steady play by Toskala preserved the Sharks 39th win of the season. Toskala finished with 14 saves and his second shutout of the season.
NOTES: Joe Thornton
(1 goal , 2 assists) and Jonathan Cheechoo (2 goals, 1 assist) each finished with three points …San Jose outshot the Kings 34-14…The Sharks enjoy two days off, including a scheduled day off tomorrow, for the last time this season as they then have six games in nine nights starting with Sunday’s home contest against Dallas (5 p.m. start) before ending the season at home against the Kings on April 17…the stretch includes at Phoenix (Monday), a home and home back-to-back against Vancouver (April 12 and 13) and Anaheim (April 15)… Sharks Defenseman Matt Carle, playing in his sixth NHL game, will fly from Los Angeles to Milwaukee tomorrow to attend the Hobey Baker award presentation ceremony at the Bradley Center, the site of the NCAA Division I men’s hockey Frozen Four championship weekend...Carle is one of three named finalists for the hardware.
San Jose, owning the tiebreaker with one more victory, moved into 7th place in the Western Conference, despite being tied with Edmonton (who picked up one point after losing in a shootout at Minnesota) with 89 points…both teams trail 6th place Colorado (90 points) and 5th place Anaheim (92 points), who lost to Dallas tonight… Vancouver has 87 points and LA has 85.