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Sharks clinch playoff spot with emphasis
San Jose dismantles Stars
3/31/11 - By Mike Lee -

There was plenty of opportunity to be distracted on Thursday night at HP Pavilion. With a chance to clinch a playoff spot against a Dallas Stars lineup that stirred the pot in Texas two weeks ago, the Sharks decided to ignore all the noise and play hockey. The result was a 6-0 dismantling of the Stars, who are fading in the race to finish as one of the top eight teams in the Western Conference. Patrick Marleau scored a pair of goals and Antti Niemi stopped 29 shots he faced to record his 6th shutout of the season.

When the smoke cleared, the Sharks were celebrating a trip to the Stanley Cup playoffs. It's the seventh consecutive year the Sharks have qualified for the NHL's second season.

Collectively, the Sharks put a season high 52 shots on goal. All that rubber was divided between starting goaltender Kari Lehtonen and Andrew Raycroft, who was summoned in the 3rd period after the Sharks put four pucks past Lehtonen.

"We were a little concerned coming off the four day layoff, but I think we came out and were obviously energized and the guys used the four days to their advantage," said Sharks head coach Todd McLellan.

That was the understatement of the evening.

San Jose simply dominated the reeling Stars from the opening faceoff to the final horn. In addition to Marleau's offensive outburst, two Sharks defenseman, Dan Boyle and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, scored goals.

Those expecting the shenanigans from the March 15th Sharks-Stars game to carry over to Thursday night's game, may have been the only people to leave HP Pavilion disappointed. The remainder of the sellout crowd had plenty to cheer about.

Boyle was the only contributor to the score sheet in the opening period, converting his 7th goal of the season. The defenseman punched home a deflection after Joe Pavelski took a long feed from Kyle Wellwood up the left wide before putting a spin-o-rama move on defenseman Jeff Woywitka and getting a shot off on Lehtonen. Boyle pinched from his defensive position to cash in after Lehtonen left the puck unattended out in front of his net.

The Sharks would get another goal of the impressive variety 4:30 into the 2nd period, when Logan Couture gloved a deflection out of the air, dropped it to the ice and snapped home his 31st goal of the season. Ryane Clowe had put a shot on Lehtonen from the slot, but the puck deflected up in the air, rainbowing to the bottom of the left circle as Couture came crashing in on net.

The goal tied Couture with the New York Islanders forward Michael Grabner for the rookie goal scoring lead.

The penalty bug would bite the Sharks, who sent three players to the box on separate infractions over a seven minute span. The penalty kill did its job, killing off all three Stars power plays.

Vlasic helped pad the blueline scoring totals for the year by ripping a shot from the left point at 18:25, that hit Lehtonen before trickling over the goal line.

With the playoffs approaching, the Sharks cut their teeth on putting teams away in the 3rd period by putting 21 shots on Dallas in the final period. In the process, they also scored three more goals to turn the game into a laugher.

Marleau scored the first of his two goals 2:30 into the final period by taking a Jamal Mayers feed at center ice and blowing past Woywitka on his way to the net. The centerman snapped a shot from the slot, beating Lehtonen high to the glove side.

The goal would also end Lehtonen's evening. Things didn't get much better for Raycroft.

Marleau scored his team high 35th goal ten minutes later, lifting a backhand chance past Raycroft from the doorstep. Dany Heatley fought off two defenders in the left corner, before chipping the puck along the end boards to Joe Thornton who setup Marleau's goal with a pass from behind the Stars net.

The goal came on Marleau's 12th shot of the game, setting a new team record.

Ben Eager punctuated the evening with one of those "did you see that" goals that come along once or twice a season. Skating up the left wing, Mayers sent a diagonal pass to Eager on the off wing, but the pass was behind the burly forward. Eager reached back with his stick, deflecting the puck through his legs to his forehand, before sliding a shot past Raycroft for his 6th goal of the season.

Woywitka was the victim of Eager's heroics and would finish the game with a team low -3 plus-minus, but Eager's goal punctuated the defenseman's rough night.

"Unbelievable," said Couture. "I was in shock for a little while. I think I said 'wow' about fifty times. He's a skilled player, even though he's a fourth line player. He does a lot and we see it sometimes in practice. It was a great play, then only play he really had. The puck was passed behind him, so to think to bring it through his legs like that was pretty cool."

Niemi wasn't exactly bored in net, facing a double digit shots in the first two periods, but the Stars rarely challenged him.

We knew they were going to throw pucks behind the net and come for rebounds," said Niemi. "The D[efense] played great in front of me."

San Jose leap-frogged the Detroit Red Wings into the 2nd seed in the West with the victory. With six games remaining in the regular season, the Stars are slowly seeing their chances of extending their season die a slow death. Dallas trails Chicago by three points for the 8th seed, but they've gone 2-4-4 in their last ten games.

"No excuses for us," said Stars head coach Marc Crawford. "We got beat and we got beat soundly tonight."



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Scoring
1 2 3 T
DAL 0 0 0 0
SJ 1 2 3 6
1st period - 1, SJ, Boyle 7 (Pavelski, Wellwood), 16:12.
2nd period - 2, SJ, Couture 31 (Clowe, Heatley), 4:30, (pp). 3, SJ, Vlasic 3 (Thornton, Setoguchi), 18:25.
3rd period - 4, SJ, Marleau 34 (Mayers, White), 2:30. 5, SJ, Marleau 35 (Thornton, Heatley), 12:26. 6, SJ, Eager 6 (Mayers, Vlasic), 14:18.
Penalties
1st period - Woywitka, DAL (roughing), 19:56.
2nd period - Daley, DAL (hooking), 3:26; Thornton, SJ (hooking), 7:17; Mayers, SJ (high sticking), 10:06; Setoguchi, SJ (tripping), 13:56.
3rd period - Bench, DAL (too many men), 8:43.
Goaltending
Shots Saves
DAL - Lehtonen 33 29
DAL - Raycroft 19 17
SJ - Niemi 29 29
Shots On Goal
1 2 3 T
DAL 10 11 8 29
SJ 14 17 21 52
Power Play Conversion
DAL 0 of 3
SJ 1 of 3
3 Stars of the Game
Patrick Marleau
Antti Niemi
Ben Eager
Attendence
17,562
Officials
Referees: Walkom, Meier. Linesmen: Gibbs, Racicot.
Holiday Gifts at BustedTees

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