The Sharks were hanging onto a 3-2 lead with time expiring when Dallas made their finally push to tie the game. There was a flurry in front of the net, but the puck squirted out to the point where a Dallas defenseman was waiting. He wound up and fired a slap shot… to no avail. Logan Couture slid in the way, blocking the shot just as the clock struck zero. The Sharks clinched their ninth-consecutive playoff berth in their final home appearance of the regular season.
Just how it was supposed to be written, this San Jose Sharks team has been in a transformation for much of this strange 2012-13 season. It rode the ups and downs you’d expect from a lockout-shortened season, struggling to find an identity and a leader at times.
Their identity may still be in question: somewhere between finesse, speed and grit.
Their leader, however, is no longer in doubt: Couture runs this team.
San Jose may not have been leading on the scoreboard, but they were in control of this game for most of the night. It was Kari Lehtonen holding the Sharks’ pink slip and certifiably standing on his head for chance-after-merciful-chance. Raffi Torres got the Sharks on the board first, but Dallas goals late in the first and early in the second period put the Sharks behind.
It started looking futile in the third frame. Lehtonen finished his outing with 34 saves, but it sure felt like 30 of them came in the last 20 minutes of the game. The Sharks owned the first five minutes, staying for dinner in the Stars’ zone but never making good on their shots.
Lehtonen finally cracked with just over five minutes left, when Brad Stuart blasted a shot from the point that tipped off Joe Pavelski’s stick. Then it was Couture — and why wouldn’t it be — that slide out to the high slot to receive a pass from Patrick Marleau and deposit it past the suddenly defeated Stars’ goaltender.
And there you have it. The Sharks’ leading goal-scorer provided the game-winning goal and the lead-saving play to deliver the raucous HP Pavilion crowd a ninth-consecutive playoff appearance. San Jose seems to have found a way to look like the best team in the league and the worst all in the same season, but I can’t think of a better way for this team to be strolling into the playoffs.
The work isn’t done
The Sharks will board a plane tonight en route to Phoenix for their series finale on Wednesday. Then it’s off to Los Angeles on Saturday, where they’ll play their season finale against their division rivals.
How far San Jose can go in the playoffs could hinge heavily on these final two games. Their regular season home record this season will be 17-2-5, topped in the Western Conference by only the Chicago Blackhawks (17-3-3). As it stands, San Jose holds the fifth seed, but if they win out they’ll overtake the Kings for the fourth and ensure home ice advantage for at least the first round.
This was my second season covering the Sharks for BASG, but my first as a credentialed writer. It’s been an awesome season and a wonderful experience. I think I speak for all of us when I say let’s hope it continues — long into the postseason.