A vastly depleted San Jose Sharks squad gutted out a gritty win against a determined and desperate Colorado Avalanche team Sunday night to sweep their three-game home stand and push their win streak to four straight in regulation, as they continue to recover from their worst swoon since 1997.
This ended a streak of 398 consecutive games, dating back to his days with the Bruins, without Thornton missing from action.
Jumbo Joe suffered a lower body injury in the second period of Saturday night’s game against Vancouver, as he fell awkwardly into the corner boards chasing a puck. He avoided the injured reserve list and has been listed as day-to-day. All indications from the team suggest he will return to action soon.
But that was of little consolation to the Sharks Sunday, as they had to face Colorado without their top center.
To further complicate matters, the Sharks were also without top goalie Evgeni Nabokov, who had played the first game of the back-to-back the previous night, and captain Rob Blake, who took the night off to rest as a healthy scratch.
Nonetheless, the Sharks managed a win against a potential first-round playoff opponent. They scored four goals, none of which were particularly “pretty” or “elegant.” The Sharks scored by crashing the net, obscuring the goalie’s line of sight, and deflecting and redirecting perimeter shots. These are exactly the type of “ugly” goals that long Stanley Cup Playoff runs are inevitably built around.
Furthermore, with one of their top players out, the Sharks were able to lean on secondary scoring to provide the necessary offense to pull out the win. Devin Setoguchi scored twice, Jed Ortmeyer scored once, and Dan Boyle chipped in from the blue line with a goal and an assist. Both these aspects (ugly goals and secondary scoring) should bode very well for the Sharks moving into the playoffs.
The win capped a home stand sweep in which the Sharks reversed their luck from the previous week and exacted some revenge on Western Conference opponents.
Following an embarrassing 8-2 loss in Dallas on March 16, the Sharks shut out the Stars 3-0 back home on Thursday, as Nabby notched his 50th career shutout. Vancouver also dealt the Sharks a regulation loss during their swoon, 3-2 on March 18. The Sharks returned that favor Saturday with a 4-2 win in San Jose.
During their swoon, it was the Sharks’ opponents exacting revenge for earlier defeats. Anaheim scored three goals in the first period of a March 14 contest in Southern California en route to a 4-2 win, saving themselves from a season sweep at the hands of San Jose.
Calgary beat the Sharks 4-3 in regulation March 19, exacting a measure of revenge for a 9-1 drubbing at the hands of the Sharks back on January 18.
Edmonton—the worst team in the NHL—beat the Sharks soundly by the score of 5-1 on March 21 after losing their first three games to San Jose, including a 5-4 game in Edmonton back on Nov. 27. The Sharks had trailed 3-1 in that game before rallying behind a Patrick Marleau hat trick to win in a shootout.
Now with four straight wins, including games against Dallas and Vancouver, it seems the Sharks have come full circle. Even Sunday night’s win over Colorado could be considered in the same vein, as the Avalanche beat the Sharks beat the Sharks 5-2 on opening night in Denver.
Sunday’s win also gave the Sharks some breathing room in the Western Conference standings. It brought them to 104 points on the year—four points better than division rival Phoenix and five points better than Chicago (though Chicago has two games in hand).
With Chicago’s starting goalie Cristobal Huet struggling mightily (4.29 GAA in his last five starts) and backup Antti Niemi pushing him for playing time, Chicago seems to be vulnerable.
Less than a week after falling to fourth in the Western Conference while in the midst of their worst swoon in over a decade, the Sharks are now back in a position of controlling their own destiny in terms of playoff seeding.
Detroit has climbed to sixth in the West by going 8-1-1 in their last 10 games (making them unlikely to fall back and meet the Sharks in the first round), and the Sharks have winning records against every other team in the fourth through eighth spots (3-1-0 against Nashville, 3-2-1 against LA, and 2-1-0 against Colorado).
Suddenly, things are looking up. In a tumultuous Western Conference race, Sharks fans can only hope that they stay that way.