Preview of Game No. 79, courtesy of The Associated Press
The San Jose Sharks already have the Pacific Division wrapped up, but they’re showing no signs of letting up.
The Sharks will be trying to earn a point in their 20th straight game on Tuesday when they host the Los Angeles Kings in the opener of a home-and-home series.
San Jose (48-21-10) is 17-0-2 since a season-high five-game losing streak Feb. 12-20. The Sharks wrapped up their third Pacific Division title with Friday’s 3-1 win at Anaheim and own the second-best record in the NHL.
San Jose is five points behind Detroit with three games remaining. If the Sharks lose, or the Red Wings pick up a point, they will be out of the running for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
However, with an eight-point lead over the Ducks, who own the third-best record in the conference, San Jose has at least a No. 2 seed wrapped up. They are just one point shy of the franchise record of 107 set last season.
“We try and prepare to win every game,” coach Ron Wilson said. “You don’t plan on a streak like this. And I’m not about to tell our team to change – that’s when you get in trouble, is when you have a rope pulling in one direction and you loosen the grip and sometimes it slips out of your hands.
“We want to keep playing our kind of hockey right now, playoff hockey, and see what happens.”
The Sharks won their third straight on Sunday, beating Phoenix 3-1. Joe Thornton scored two goals in the first period, and Milan Michalek had two assists.
“The guys were doing all the little detail things,” Wilson said. “I thought we totally controlled the game.”
Thornton leads the NHL with 65 assists, but has scored seven goals in his last four games. His 28 goals this season are his most since he scored 36 in 2002-03.
“When you’re scoring like that, you just want to shoot everything you get a chance to,” said Thornton, who has eight goals and 28 assists in 30 career games against the Kings. “Right now, it’s just finding the back of the net. Just keep shooting, and you never know.”
Forward Ryane Clowe had an assist on Thornton’s first goal in his first game since missing 67 following knee surgery in October. Jonathan Cheechoo, Craig Rivet and rookie Devin Setoguchi all got the night off to heal minor injuries, and Mike Grier also got a rest, though he’s healthy.
The Sharks are 2-0-1 in their last three games against the Kings (31-41-7), but have dropped all three meetings in San Jose this season. The Sharks visit Los Angeles on Thursday in the finale of the home-and-home set.
The Kings own the worst record in the NHL and are coming off Saturday’s 7-2 loss to Dallas. They are trying to avoid finishing a season with the league’s worst record for the second time and first since 1969-70.
Kevin Dallman and Michael Cammalleri scored for the Kings, who were outshot 35-14.
“There’s no excuse, you never want to play like that in front of your fans, but we ran out of gas today,” coach Marc Crawford said.