SAN JOSE – After coming oh-so-close to clinching a playoff spot on Sunday, the Sharks will try once again to officially make certain of their spot in the postseason when they host the Dallas Stars at HP Pavilion on Tuesday night.
San Jose, needing just a point to clinch for a ninth straight season, surrendered a late goal to the Blue Jackets to lose 4-3, after fighting back from a two-goal deficit to start the third period. They’ll likely have their hands full with the Stars, who are in 10th place in the Western Conference and can still make the playoffs themselves with a strong finish.
Matching the Stars’ desperation level will be key.
“Our main goal right now is to win to get into the playoffs,” Logan Couture said. “That’s enough motivation for us.”
Joe Thornton said: “We’ve been so good at home all year, so it would be nice to clinch a playoff berth at home. It’s a big two points up for grabs tonight.”
Dallas has beaten the Sharks in all three games of the season series, including a 5-4 shootout victory here on April 7 and a 2-1 win at American Airlines Center 10 days ago. Each game has featured a different winning goaltender, too, in Kari Lehtonen, Richard Bachman and Christopher Nihlstorp. On Tuesday, it will be Lehtonen against Antti Niemi.
The Stars appeared to be sellers at the trade deadline, sending Jaromir Jagr, Derek Roy and captain Brenden Morrow to other clubs. Rather than fade, which was expected, Dallas has gotten a jolt from a number of young players that are trying to prove they belong at the NHL level.
In the nine games since the April 3 deadline, Dallas has scored 31 goals, for an impressive average of 3.44 per game.
Todd McLellan’s team has seen the Stars twice over that span.
“We watch enough hockey and they’ve played together enough since the trade deadline to know some of their tendencies,” McLellan said. “Their lines have stayed relatively the same. They’ve gotten a lot of energy from those kids that have come up from the minors.”
Couture said: “We know they’re going to work hard, young guys that are coming in and trying to make names for themselves in the league. I know they’re still alive in the playoffs, but these guys on their team are going to try and prove they can play in the NHL for next year, as well.”
The Sharks can still finish as high as fourth in the West, which would give them home ice in the first round. They can also still technically miss the postseason, although it would take a perfect storm of everything going wrong for that to happen.
San Jose finishes its regular season slate with games in Phoenix on Wednesday and Los Angeles on Saturday. The Sharks are 8-12-2 on the road, as opposed to a 16-2-5 at home.
“We’ve still got three games to go, and some business to get into the postseason,” Thornton said. “It’s exciting to see what’s next, but we’ve still got to look after tonight.”