Minnesota Wild

Sharks clinch spot in NHL playoffs, thanks to Avalanche win over Wild

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Sharks clinch spot in NHL playoffs, thanks to Avalanche win over Wild

For the fourth consecutive season, Peter DeBoer has guided the Sharks to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Thanks to the Colorado Avalanche's 3-1 win over the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night, the Sharks became the second team in the Western Conference to secure a playoff spot. The Calgary Flames (45-21-7), whom the Sharks (43-22-8) trail by three points for first place in the Pacific Division, were the first. 

The Sharks lost to the Vegas Golden Knights in the second round last year. If the playoffs started today, second-seeded San Jose would match up with third-seeded Vegas in the first round.

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DeBoer took over as Sharks coach in 2015 after the franchise ended a 10-year run of making the playoffs. The Sharks made it to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season, but they haven't advanced past the second round since.

The franchise also seeks its first Pacific Division crown since the 2010-11 season. A division banner would be the first of DeBoer's career as an NHL head coach.

Martin Jones is looking like the goalie the Sharks need come playoff time

Martin Jones is looking like the goalie the Sharks need come playoff time

You can’t talk about the Sharks shutting out the Wild 3-0 on Monday night without mentioning Martin Jones. Not just because he tallied his third shutout of the 2018-19 campaign -- two of which have come against Minnesota, no less -- but because this is the Martin Jones who turned away 24 shots en route to his fifth victory in a row. This is the Martin Jones that has allowed two or fewer goals in 10 of his last 15 starts.

This is the Martin Jones the Sharks need in the playoffs.

Of course, to his team, Jones has been building up to this point. “I think he’s been good for a while now,” Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer said of Jones last Saturday before San Jose hosted the St. Louis Blues. “Really, coming back from the break at the end of January. He’s been giving us timely saves. Winning a lot of games.”

The coach is right. Prior to San Jose's post-All-Star weekend break, Jones was 23-10-4 after giving up three or more goals in all 14 of those games. Since returning from the break, No. 31 has gone 11-3-1 and the only victory in which he gave up more than two goals was San Jose’s 4-3 win over the Avalanche on Mar. 1.

Of course, Jones is also getting a lot more help from the defense in front of him nowadays. That blue line definitely had his back, blocking 16 shots to the Wild's eight on Monday night in Minnesota. They were a big help in the first frame when the Wild appeared to have the early jump and weren’t giving anything up going in the opposite direction. 

“(Minnesota) made it really tough on us,” Jones admitted to NBC’s Brian Boucher after the win over the Wild. 

But it was Jones himself who made the big stops when he needed to. After nearly missing a shot by Zach Parise that ricocheted off the post, the netminder pulled out some of his best stops, preventing Minnesota from gaining any momentum. When he froze Joel Eriksson Ek at the end of the second period to keep the Wild from tying the score 1-1, it was obvious Jones was playing with that playoff-caliber zest. Even though Minnesota's Jonas Brodin was given the first star of the game, it's hard to think of any player who deserved it more than Jones did.

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Now, the Sharks move on to Winnipeg to close out their current road back-to-back against a tough Jets team. Does Jones get the nod to play two nights in a row?

When asked about it in his postgame interview, Jones cracked a smile. “I always want to play,” he said. “But I play when I’m told. That’s my job.”

For the record: Jones has a 2-0-0 record this season when playing on zero days rest.

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 3-0 shutout win over Wild

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 3-0 shutout win over Wild

BOX SCORE

The Sharks and Wild may not have been playing a playoff game on Monday night, but boy did it look like one. Both teams played tough and tight and refused to give each other any room. That is, until San Jose broke through in the second half of the contest and shut out the Wild 3-0. 

Here are three takeaways from the season series finale:

This was a defense-heavy game if we ever saw one

...And not just because this was a low-scoring game. A low-scoring game can be the result of weak offense. The back-and-forth and shot-for-shot nature of Monday’s Sharks-Wild game was the work of two teams who buckled down and refused to give the opposition any room to work. (Honorable mention: Martin Jones, who tallied his third shutout of the season.)

You really have to give credit to the Sharks, who used their size to get around Minnesota’s defense. Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl were standouts in getting dangerous looks right in Devan Dubnyk’s grill -- even before they worked together to get the second goal on the evening. And, of course, Barclay Goodrow, who was posted up in front of Minnesota’s goal, deflected Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s shot into the net.

Hats off to the penalty kill

The penalty kill was really good for both teams. San Jose had two opportunities on the man advantage in the first frame that could have given them an early lead. Minnesota, however, did a good job of breaking up the Sharks’ plays.

But the Sharks’ penalty kill was equally as effective when the Wild got two opportunities in the second stanza. San Jose had a problem killing penalties during a recent stretch, so it was definitely nice to see them tighten that aspect of their game up -- especially against a desperate team like Minnesota, who was pressing. 

It always helps to win the first one

Sure, the Sharks have already played a ridiculous number of back-to-backs this season. But prevailing in the first game can really give a team a good boost they can carry into the following evening. 

Winning such a tight game in Minnesota is great fuel for the Sharks before they play in Winnipeg on Tuesday. The Jets are just barely holding onto first place in the Central division and lost to San Jose when the teams last matched up. Having positive momentum coming out of the win over the Wild should set the Sharks up nicely.