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Smith blanks Sharks again
Sharks now in 9th place in the West
3/29/12 - By Mike Lee -

It wasn't an elimination game, but it felt like one. Perched precariously on the ledge, the Sharks needed to beat the Phoenix Coyotes on Thursday night to fend off their division foes from taking their playoff spot. Not only did they lose, but San Jose couldn't even muster any scoring against the Coyotes. Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith stopped all 38 shots the Sharks threw his way en route to a 2-0 shutout victory. With the blanking, Smith became the first goaltender to shutout the Sharks three times in a season.

With the loss, the Sharks fell to the 9th position in the Western Conference. If the season ended today, the team that's qualified for the Conference Finals the last two seasons would be out of the playoffs. The thought of missing the playoffs seems almost unfathomable given the success the Sharks have enjoyed the last decade.

When San Jose acquired Brent Burns last summer, the acquisition was supposed to be the missing piece in a lineup that had fallen one series short of the Stanley Cup finals in back-to-back seasons. Burns started what may have been the play that drew the Sharks one game closer to a summer vacation in the 3rd period, when he pinched on an offensive chance that backfired.

Burns got caught when Joe Pavelski's shot was blocked, which led to the Coyotes 2nd goal of the evening. It was more offense then the Coyotes needed, but it essentially broke the Sharks back. Radium Vrabata deposited hi s 32nd goal of the season on the back end of a 3-on-1 break after Pavelski's disastrous shot attempt.

Vrbata converted on a power play 4 minutes into the 2nd period after Patrick Marleau was sent off for a boarding penalty. Vrbata was the beneficiary of a Ray Whitney shot that hit Antti Niemi and trickled to the left of the crease for an easy deposit. Phoenix took all of 20 seconds to convert the power play into the game winning goal.

San Jose's healthy shot total consisted of lots of long range shots that Smith simply had to collect. A lack of any net presence throughout the evening was the tell tale sign that it was going to be a long game for the Sharks.

Even with the man-advantage, San Jose took no initiative. A Martin Hanzel hooking penalty in the 2nd period gave the Sharks an opportunity to draw even with Phoenix, but San Jose could only muster a 43-foot wrist shot that barely got Smith's attention.

Smith didn't need to make any big saves, because there was nary a shot that came close to beating him. When he did give up a rebound, an absence of Sharks sweaters in front of the Coyotes goal created little threat for the Phoenix defensive corps.

The loss leaves only 4 games left to climb back into a playoff spot, but games like Thursday's debacle provides little confidence that they would be able to do much should they qualify for the NHL's second season.

Game Notes:

Sharks defenseman Douglas Murray did not play after he sustained an undisclosed injury in Anaheim on Wednesday night.





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Scoring
1 2 3 T
SJ 0 0 0 0
PHO 0 1 1 2
1st period - None.
2nd period - 1, PHO, Vrbata 31 (Whitney, Hanzal), 3:49, (pp).
3rd period - 2, PHO, Vrbata 32 (Whitney, Ekman-Larsson), 8:17.
Penalties
1st period - None.
2nd period - Marleau, SJ (boarding), 3:20; Hanzal, PHO (hooking), 13:13.
3rd period - None.
Goaltending
Shots Saves
SJ - Niemi 33 31
PHO - Smith 38 38
Shots On Goal
1 2 3 T
SJ 15 9 14 38
PHO 9 13 11 33
Power Play Conversion
SJ 0 of 1
PHO 1 of 1
3 Stars of the Game
Radim Vrbata
Mike Smith
Ray Whitney
Attendence
14,446
Officials
Referees: LaRue, Peel. Linesmen: Cherrey, Gibbs.
Holiday Gifts at BustedTees

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