With the playoffs starting in two weeks, the San Jose Sharks are trying to get several key players healthy for a Stanley Cup run. They’re also making a strong push for the top seed in the Western Conference.
Short-handed San Jose looks to continue its quest for first place in the West and match a franchise record for victories Thursday night when it visits the stumbling Edmonton Oilers, who try to avoid falling further out of the playoff race.
After clinching their second consecutive Pacific Division crown with Saturday’s 3-2 win over Phoenix, the Sharks defeated Calgary 2-1 on Monday to reach 50 victories for the second time in team history. The only other time San Jose had 50 wins was in 2006-07, when it recorded a franchise-best 51.
With Monday’s win, the Sharks (50-15-11) also moved four points ahead of Detroit in the race for first in the West with six games remaining for each team. San Jose is 5-1-1 since March 19, but it hasn’t been easy with all the injured players missing time.
Marleau, who leads the Sharks with 37 goals, is also expected to miss this game. He was instrumental in San Jose’s two victories over the Oilers (36-32-9) this season, scoring two goals in each.
While Marleau was out Monday, Jonathan Cheechoo returned after missing two contests with a lower-body injury and scored the go-ahead goal in the second period.
“Anytime you don’t have nine players, you want the other guys to step up and play well,” said Evgeni Nabokov, who made 28 saves. “Our system has changed a little bit, we’re not as aggressive and we have to be a little bit smarter, and in a way, I think it’s helped us.”
Nabokov is 7-1-1 with a 2.10 goals-against average and one shutout in starting the last 10 games for San Jose after missing the previous seven with the flu and a lower-body injury. He has also been in goal for each game against Edmonton this season, going 2-0-1 with a 1.97 GAA.
While the Sharks are building momentum for the postseason, the Oilers are in danger of missing the playoffs for the third straight season.
Edmonton was seventh in the West on March 20 but has lost five of six to fall into a 10th-place tie with Minnesota - three points back of the final playoff spot.
In Tuesday’s 5-3 loss to Anaheim, Denis Grebeshkov and Zack Stortini scored 68 seconds apart in the final minutes of the third period to get the Oilers within one. The Ducks, though, added an empty-net goal with 36 seconds remaining to put the game away.
“There are still 10 points available,” Edmonton captain Ethan Moreau said. “I’d like to believe if we continue to play the style of hockey we did that we will have some success in the last five games.”
Dwayne Roloson stopped 20 shots Tuesday to become the oldest goalie in NHL history to appear in at least 60 games. The 39-year-old Roloson, who has made 33 consecutive starts, has started each game against the Sharks this season, posting a 3.85 GAA in those meetings.