The Dallas Stars could no longer win the Pacific Division, but they could take a big step in preventing the Sharks from tying them for six titles since they joined the division in 1999. More importantly, they could take a significant step in making the playoffs themselves.
After Antti Niemi's sixth shutout of the season, expect to see the Sharks win the Pacific and the Blackhawks earn the final playoff spot.
Because the Blackhawks won Friday, Dallas is five points back of Chicago with six to go. They have a game in hand, but the defending champions hold the ROW (regulation/overtime win) tiebreaker.
The Stars looked lifeless in a 6-0 rout, allowing 52 shots to their 29. Despite the Sharks puck possession edge from a 31-22 faceoff advantage, Dallas blocked only two more shots and registered only two more hits.
The Stars did not even take to cheap shots beyond Steve Ott's attempted knee followed by kicking up his skates when he missed and hit the boards at the Sharks bench in the first period. There were no fights and just one physical penalty (both teams took three minors), though the officials did not call a tight game—both teams could have been called for another penalty or two.
The Sharks got stronger as the game went along, scoring one in the first, two in the second, and three in the third.
Scoring opened with under four minutes to go in the first, with Joe Pavelski advancing a head-man pass from Kyle Wellwood to press the defence. His spin-o-rama shot was easily blocked by goalie Kari Lehtonen, but Dan Boyle jumped up into the play to put home the rebound.
On a Sharks power play just over four minutes into the second, Dany Heatley pounced on a rebound of a Dan Boyle point-shot. When it deflected up into the air off Ryane Clowe, Logan Couture caught it and threw it down to his stick for the backhand goal.
"I credit that to my baseball years," he said in the post-game program. "Growing up I was a shortstop...I always had a great glove and I was just able to throw it to my stick and put it in."
Before the period was over, Devin Setoguchi hustled to force a turnover in the offensive end and got the puck over to Joe Thornton. Then Seto hustled to the front of the net to provide a screen for Marc-Edouard Vlasic's shot after the Sharks captain fed him on the point.
When Ian White knocked down a Dallas dump-in just over two minutes into the third period, he advanced the puck to Jamal Mayers in the neutral zone. Jammers found Patrick Marleau heading into the attack zone, and Patty skated by the defence and put the puck past Lehtonen at 2:30 to go up 4-0.
Mercifully, Marc Crawford pulled his goalie. While the shot was one Kari would like to have back, his removal was more a resignation he would continually be exposed by bad defence than a reflection of his own play.
The Sharks did their part to prove it was not Lehtonen, scoring two more against back-up Andrew Raycroft.
The first came 12:24 into the third. Dany Heatley fought off two Stars along the boards until Thornton could race in and behind the net and feed Marleau in front of the crease; Patty kicked the puck to his backhand and put it home for his second of the period.
Less than four minutes later, they capped the scoring with a highlight-reel goal. Vlasic again won the battle along the boards--this time in the defensive end--and Mayers won the race to the puck. As he skated up the left wing, he passed across to Ben Eager streaking up the gut, who stick-handled between his legs past the defender before putting home the backhand without breaking stride.
It was a balanced attack with 13 Sharks scoring, 14 finishing in the plus, and 16 registering shots on goal.
No one but Boyle had 20 minutes of ice time, and all but Andrew Desjardins had over 10. The Big Three (Thornton, Heatley, and Marleau) all finished at least plus-two with two points, combining for 19 shots on goal (12 from Patty). Setoguchi added six shots and Boyle had five with four blocks.
The Sharks look to carry their stellar play into Saturday's game hosting the red-hot Anaheim Ducks. If they win that game, they could be playing for the division title on Monday when the Los Angeles Kings come to town.
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