SAN JOSE – The Nashville Predators kept the Sharks in the Pacific Division race by beating Anaheim on Friday night.
On Saturday at SAP Center, though, they quite possibly ended any hope that San Jose had of getting the easier first round playoff matchup. Three points from Patric Hornqvist during a dreary second period effort from the Sharks helped the Predators to a 3-0 win.
The Sharks squandered an opportunity to regain first place in the division. They remain one point behind Anaheim, but the Ducks have two games in hand. San Jose has three games left in the regular season.
The Sharks appeared to have their work boots on in the first period, outplaying Nashville despite not getting on the scoreboard. They didn’t keep it up in the second, though.
The power play failed on its first two chances in the middle frame, and the Predators scored goals shortly after killing them both.
First, Hornqvist was allowed to camp out in front of the crease, and easily whacked in a rebound off of the stick of Matt Cullen at 3:48, less than two minutes after Calle Jarnkrok stepped out of the box for cross-checking Joe Pavelski.
A Nick Spaling hooking minor at 6:31 gave the Sharks another chance with a man advantage, but the closest they came to tying it was when Brent Burns’ wristed a rising shot off of the post.
Spaling’s penalty was eventually killed off, though, and the forward set up Hornqvist for Nashville’s second marker at 8:59. On the play, Spaling protected the puck from Dan Boyle behind the net before finding Hornqvist open in the slot.
The lead increased to 3-0 at 13:16, when Roman Josi skated around Jason Demers and was able to get it through Niemi on a play in which the Sharks defenseman and goaltender seemed to fall asleep.
San Jose upped its desperation level in the third, directing 19 shots at Carter Hutton, but not getting anything past him. Tommy Wingels’ rebound try was stopped by the goaltender with 14:34 to go, and later Matt Irwin rang a shot off the post. A Marc-Edouard Vlasic point attempt rattled around in the crease with Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau hovering around the net, but Hutton froze it with 8:41 to go.
The 28-year-old’s shutout, a 35-save performance, was the first of his career.
The Predators swept the season series with San Jose, winning all three games in regulation. They are 7-2-1 against the Sharks in the last 10 games.
The Sharks were 0-for-2 on the power play, while the Predators failed on their one attempt. All three power plays were in the second period.
In the third, Joe Thornton jabbed Hornqvist in the jaw, after the Predators’ forward was already headed to the box on a slash. Each went to the box resulting in four-on-four play.
San Jose had scored at least one power play goal in each of its last five games.
Niemi started for the fifth time in the last six games. He allowed three goals on 24 Predators shots, and lost all three games of the season series.
Hutton earned his second win against the Sharks, including in Nashville on Dec. 14.
Several Sharks saw their scoring streaks come to an end, including Boyle (six games), Burns (five games) and Pavelski (five games).
The Sharks made just one change to their lineup, inserting Irwin back in for Scott Hannan.
The Sharks will get their longest post-Olympic break rest between games, with three days until Wednesday’s tilt in Anaheim. The Ducks, who visit Edmonton on Sunday and Vancouver on Monday, will be playing their third game in four nights.
The Sharks’ final regular season home game is next Friday vs. Colorado, and the 82-game slate wraps up the following night in Phoenix.