A four-team race for the playoffs has fueled the San Jose Sharks’ recent rise in the Western Conference.
They hope it continues when they take on the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena in the finale of a five-game road trip.
The Sharks are 8-1-2 in their last 11 games and are trying to catch Vancouver and Edmonton for the eighth and final playoff spot. San Jose begins play in ninth place with 82 points—two points behind the Canucks and Oilers, who are tied for seventh. The Sharks also have a one-point lead over 10th-place Los Angeles.
San Jose will face the Canucks and Kings twice more, including a home-and-home series with Vancouver on April 12-13 and a season-finale meeting with the Kings at home, where the Sharks are 8-0-1 since a 4-3 loss to Calgary on Feb. 6.
San Jose has completed its season series with Edmonton.
The Sharks improved to 3-1-0 on their road swing as Tom Preissing scored 1:24 into overtime and Joe Thornton had three assists for the second straight game in the Sharks’ 5-4 win over Chicago on Sunday.
“The guys are just shooting the puck real well right now,” said Thornton, who has 16 goals and 57 assists in 46 games with his new team. “They’re making me look better than I am.”
One of those players is Jonathan Cheechoo, who has set the Sharks’ single-season record with 45 goals. Since Thornton’s arrival, Cheechoo has scored 38 goals and added 22 assists in 46 games, while second-leading scorer Patrick Marleau has totaled 22 goals and 33 assists.
Thornton has three goals and 10 assists in six games against the Blue Jackets in his career, including a four-point night in the Sharks’ 6-3 win over Columbus on Jan. 5.
The Blue Jackets have won consecutive games since a five-game losing streak and need one win to tie the franchise record for victories in a season with 29, set in 2002-03.
Columbus trailed 3-0 entering the third period before it scored four goals against Red Wings goalie Chris Osgood in just over seven minutes.
“It was kind of getting to desperation time for us,” said Manny Malhotra, who gave the Blue Jackets a 4-3 lead at 14:45 with his sixth goal. “We weren’t very happy the way we started the game.”
San Jose is 14-4-1 all time against the Blue Jackets with all four losses coming in Columbus.