With a new scoring threat and a hot goaltender, the San Jose Sharks are playing some of their best hockey of the season as the playoffs approach.
The Sharks try to extend their point streak to six games when they visit the Phoenix Coyotes on Thursday in a Pacific Division matchup.
San Jose (42-25-3) is tied for fifth in the Western Conference with 87 points and in strong position for its third straight trip to the postseason. The Sharks are 4-0-1 in their last five games following a stretch of just two wins in nine games.
They are coming off their most lopsided victory of the season, 7-1 over the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday.
“We had a lot of jump tonight, and we’re starting to get confidence and get guys believing in themselves,” said Sharks coach Ron Wilson, whose team outshot Chicago 15-1 in the first 11 minutes.
Bill Guerin recorded a hat trick, including scoring on a penalty shot, and added an assist. He had gone pointless in his first six games with San Jose since being acquired from St. Louis at the trade deadline.
“You want to come in, and you want to make an impact right away,” said Guerin, who earned the fifth 30-goal season of his career with his second hat trick of the season. “It was a little frustrating, and it puts you off your game a little. It’s great to play a big role in getting us a win, finally.”
Joe Thornton also played a role in the victory with a goal and two assists, bumping his team-leading point total to 89. The veteran center has two goals and eight assists in six meetings with Phoenix (28-38-3) this season, including five points in the last two.
No Sharks player, however, has been better lately than Evgeni Nabokov. The seventh-year goaltender, who has made 13 consecutive starts, has backstopped the five-game streak with a 0.59 goals-against average and three shutouts.
San Jose has outscored opponents 18-3 in that span, including wins over Dallas, Minnesota and Edmonton.
Nabokov, though, has struggled recently versus the Coyotes, going 0-4-1 with a 4.21 GAA in his last seven starts against them.
San Jose has taken four of six meetings with the Coyotes this season and four of its last five trips to Phoenix.
The Coyotes beat the Philadelphia Flyers 4-0 on Monday to snap a five-game skid. Mikael Tellqvist made 24 saves and Niko Kapanen had a goal and an assist for a Phoenix team which will miss the playoffs for the fourth straight season.
The Coyotes are 3-11-1 in their last 15 games and haven’t won back-to-back contests since Jan. 20-26.
“Any time you’re not winning, everybody’s in focus and in line to take criticism and the heat to go with it,” said Coyotes coach Wayne Gretzky, whose team is tied with Los Angeles for last place in the West. “This is a great sports city and a city that wants to do well. … When a team is not successful, obviously you start pointing fingers, and that’s just human nature.”
These teams meet for the eighth and final time on March 30 in San Jose.