Antti Niemi

Sharks cling to No. 8 seed after loss to Oilers

Although at times the NHL seems silly for awarding a team one point in the standings for taking a game to overtime, Sharks fans probably want to kiss Commissioner Gary Bettman today.

San Jose lost to Edmonton 3-2 in the shootout at HP Pavilion last night, finishing their home stand 1-2-1. But the one point they picked up in taking it past regulation with the Oilers ensured that, at least for the moment, the Sharks are not officially out of playoff contention. They sit tied with the Los Angeles Kings and Colorado Avalanche at 8th in the Western Conference with 74 points (the Sharks have played one fewer game than the Kings; three fewer than the Avalanche).

Last night’s game didn’t start well for the Sharks. After Dan Boyle fumbled the puck in his own zone, the Oilers’ Jordan Eberle stole it and put it past Antti Niemi to take a 1-0 lead. The goal came at 10 seconds in — the earliest allowed in Sharks history.

The Sharks rebounded late in the first period when defenseman-turned-forward Jim Vandermeer knotted it up for his first goal in a Sharks uniform.

In the second period, the Sharks took their first lead of the game when Oilers goalie Devan Dubnyk mishandled the puck by his own net. Logan Couture stole it and slid it to the front of the net, where Ryane Clowe was able to grab it and cash in. But an extremely sloppy post-scoring shift allowed the Oilers to tie it back up off of the stick of Ryan Smyth, less than a minute later.

The refs kept their whistles in their pocket for most of the evening, but when the Sharks did finally earn power play time, they couldn’t convert. The San Jose crowd started booing after the Sharks came up empty on a rare 5-on-3 opportunity, sufficiently expressing their frustration with the Sharks’ power play troubles.

Team Teal again failed to capitalize on a flurry of chances over the course of the third period, and after a scoreless overtime the Sharks were ousted in the shootout, as Sam Gagner of the Oilers was the lone goal-scorer.

The Sharks main competition, Dallas and Los Angeles, both gained ground in the standings Tuesday night with tough road wins. The Kings put up 5 goals in their victory on the tough Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne. The Stars dismantled the Canucks in Vancouver, 5-2.

Dallas now leads the Pacific Division by 2 points while the Sharks are sitting at 3rd. That bumped the Phoenix Coyotes to the 7th seed in the West.

Now the Sharks venture out on the most pivotal 4-game road trip of the season — one that will most likely dictate whether or not they get a ticket to the dance. They play in Dallas, Phoenix, Edmonton and Calgary before returning home on Mar. 15 to play Nashville. 12 of the Sharks’ final 17 games are against division opponents, and each will be critical in deciding the winner of the air-tight Pacific Division.

Although at this point any kind of playoff berth will be a gift, the Sharks would like to secure a division title, because home ice advantage will be essential for this team. If recent history proves to be any kind of indicator, winning on the road has proved to be especially difficult for San Jose.

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