With their 6-3 victory over the visiting Anaheim Mighty Ducks Saturday, the San Jose Sharks officially clinched the fifth seed in the Western Conference, putting them in a first round series with the Nashville Predators. It has been a long road for the Sharks, but there couldn’t have been a better time for Team Teal to rattle off eight consecutive wins.
“It’s been pretty amazing the last couple months the run we’ve been on,” said defenseman Kyle McLaren. “To finish as high as fifth when so many people projected us not to make the playoffs even two and a half weeks ago is amazing. It’s something special and something we hold dear to our hearts, but we still have one game to go. We can’t move, but to finish fifth is great.”
By defeating Anaheim and clinching the fifth seed, the Sharks avoid having to travel to Calgary to play the same Flames team that defeated the Sharks in the 2003-04 Western Conference Finals. Granted the Sharks are arguably the hottest team in the League right now, they have the luxury of not having to play the Hart trophy candidate Mikka Kipprusoff in the first round. But the overall consensus in the team’s locker room is that it doesn’t really matter who they play, the Sharks feel like they are the best team in the League.
“We have bigger things to look forward to now,” added McLaren. “We’ll be ready to go and well rested by the time we go to Nashville. We want to get right back at it, especially with the run we’ve been on. A lot of people wrote us off. But the guys in here believed. We were in last place in the division a couple months ago. The effort this team put together and the organization from the top down has been tremendous.”
The Sharks will play their regular season finale Monday night when they host the Los Angeles Kings. The game could mark the return of Alyn McCauley, who has missed the last several games due to an injury to his leg.
“Al tells us he feels as good as he’s felt since the start of the season,” said Sharks Head Coach Ron Wilson.” Maybe we’ll get him in on Monday and get him back in the flow of things. Both our goaltenders are healthy, all the defense are healthy, so we’re doing OK.”
After Monday’s game, the Sharks will likely have four days off before they travel to the music city to faceoff with the Preds. For the coaches, they appreciate the days off so they can prepare properly for their first round opponent, but then again, there are mixed emotions due to the momentum they currently have going.
“For the coaching staff it helps to have some days to prepare,” said Wilson. “It take two or three days to go through all the information we prepare. This gives us enough time to be prepared. We just have to make sure we don’t take our foot off the gas here. “We have a lot of momentum. You saw that energy in the first two periods. We were all over them and that’s how we’re going to have to play in the playoffs.”
“We can be dangerous,” said Nils Ekman. “We don’t want to relax. We’ve got to stay focused and battle. I don’t think we need the extra days of rest that we’re going to get. We’re pretty well rested as it is.”
There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the Predators are a little nervous to play the hottest team in hockey. Just the way the Sharks want it.
GAME NOTES - Nils Ekman extended his goal scoring streak (4) to 4 games, a new career high - Steve Bernier scored his 14th goal of the season giving the rookie 21 points (13-8=21) in the last 22 games. He is ranked 3rd among rookies in goal scoring since the Olympic break. - The Sharks have 16 goals in the last 9 games on the power play. Sharks have 17 goals on 67 power play chances in the last 9 games. The team has gone 8-0-1 during that span of games. - Tom Preissing registered has tallied 6 assists in the last 5 games. - With this victory against Anaheim tonight, Goaltender Vesa Toskala has 7 consecutive wins in his last 7 starts. - With the win the Sharks have set a new franchise record with an eight game winning streak.