San Jose couldn’t have picked a better time to go on a three-game winning streak. With the Olympic break now officially here, the Sharks made up some much needed ground in the Western Conference playoff race with wins over the Chicago Blackhawks, Dallas Stars and Phoenix Coyotes this week.
Tonight’s game was perhaps the most important one of the three, as numerous Western Conference teams ahead of the Sharks in the playoff race won earlier in the day, meaning that had San Jose lost today, they would be eight points out of the eighth and final spot for the playoffs as opposed to the six that they currently are. And with multiple games in hand on every team ahead of them, the Sharks are in a good position to climb in the standings when they get back from their two week layoff.
“Right now the mood in the locker room is pretty good,” said defenseman Tom Preissing. “We have a couple games in hand on some teams and we have a three game winning streak going into the break and that’s just what we needed.”
It was Preissing that sent the team off on a high note heading into the break when he fired a blistering slapshot from the point past Curtis Joseph just under two minutes into the overtime frame. The tally gave the Sharks their third consecutive victory and the first against the Coyotes this season.
“I wish we wouldn’t have given up that one point, but in the end, we got two, so that’s all that really matters,” said Preissing. “We needed a bit of a lift because we’ve kind of been back and fourth for the last little bit. I think we’ve got a pretty good attitude going into the break.”
With Mike Ricci’s hooking penalty expiring in the extra frame, Joe Thornton
fed Preissing near the blueline and let the team’s plus/minus leader do his work. The point was Thornton’s third (one goal, two assists) of the night, giving the center 81 (21-60=81) for the season and his seventh (3-4=7) in the last three games.
“Joe basically tells me to get myself open for the one timer and he gets it to me,” said Preissing. “He really does all the work even though I got the accolades tonight I guess.”
Someone else who has been receiving accolades as of late is goaltender Vesa Toskala. The netminder led San Jose to each of their last three wins and put them in a prime position for when they return from the break. Toskala, despite giving up four goals tonight, has played exceptionally well between the pipes and Sharks Head Coach Ron Wilson rode his hot streak at the perfect time.
Team Teal still has a lot of work to do in their quest for a playoff birth, as they will play 26 games in just 49 days when play resumes. But these last three games have increased their chances a great deal. Without these three wins, San Jose could have easily found themselves out of the playoff mix, but instead, they’re sitting right in the thick of it.
With his second period goal, Joe Thornton
notched his 500th NHL point. After the night was over, Thornton had accumulated 502 points (181 goals, 321 assists).
PLAYERS OFF TO TURIN
Four members of the Sharks will board planes in the next couple days on their way to Turin, Italy for the Olympics. Evgeni Nabokov will represent Russia, Joe Thornton
will play for Canada and Marcel Goc and Christian Ehrhoff will suit up for Germany.
STAYING OUT OF TROUBLE
The Sharks only committed one penalty tonight, keeping them among the top of the League for least penalized team. Marcel Goc was called for hooking at the beginning of the second period, but Phoenix would not capitalize on the advantage.