St. Louis Blues

Sharks’ fight to first in Western Conference standings not easy nor done

Sharks’ fight to first in Western Conference standings not easy nor done

SAN JOSE — To say the Sharks battled to overtake first place in the Western Conference on Saturday probably is a bit of an understatement. 

San Jose had to get past a tough-as-nails St. Louis Blues squad that put together a tight-checking game at SAP Center, all led by an out-of-his-mind goaltending effort from Jake Allen. If you didn’t know any better, you might’ve thought San Jose's 3-2 win over St. Louis was a playoff game. 

“You’re fighting for every inch of ice. It was relentless,” Sharks winger Kevin Labanc said after the game. “They had a couple chances, we had a couple chances. It was a really even game, I’d say. It was a lot of fun to play in.”

No surprise Labanc called the game “fun”. He did, after all, tally the game-winning goal in overtime — just what the Sharks (41-19-8, 90 points) needed to surpass the Calgary Flames (41-20-7, 89 points) in the standings.

The win also completed San Jose’s sweep of a four-game homestand, which Joe Pavelski pointed to as a boost to the team’s climb in the standings.

“We’ve caught a little stretch where we’ve been at home winning some games and Calgary’s been dropping a couple,” the captain said of the Sharks’ Pacific Division rivals, who have lost four consecutive games. 

But taking over first place in the conference isn’t just about besting the Flames. Just a few months ago, San Jose had a four-game losing streak of its own and met with general manager Doug Wilson. It isn’t lost on the Sharks how much they’ve improved since the beginning of the season.

“It means that we’ve come a long way,” Logan Couture said. “Not too long ago, we were going through some tough times as a team. We weren’t anywhere near the top of the conference. It means that we’ve found our game and played up to our capabilities.”

Sharks coach Peter DeBoer agreed.

“I like where our game is at heading into the last portion of the season,” he said. “It’s been a long road for us.”

Now, San Jose has to continue playing that way. With 14 games remaining in the regular season and the race for playoff positioning still incredibly tight, the Sharks have to keep pushing.

“We know that (Calgary’s) game will come around,” Pavelski said. “It’s just about playing hard every night and trying to put those points in our column.”

[RELATED: Why one Sharks fan made Karlsson pitch with parody song]

The Sharks can't enjoy the win for long. They'll hit the road for a back-to-back against the Winnipeg Jets (Monday) and the Minnesota Wild (Tuesday). 

Yet that doesn't mean they can't enjoy it at all. 

“It’s only one point. We still have a lot of work to do,” Labanc said, before adding: “But it’s definitely nice knowing you’re at the top of the conference.”

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 3-2 overtime win vs. Blues in matinee

Sharks takeaways: What we learned in 3-2 overtime win vs. Blues in matinee

BOX SCORE

SAN JOSE – Coach Peter DeBoer said the Sharks' matchup with the St. Louis Blues would test his team – and boy, he wasn’t kidding. San Jose went back-and-forth with St. Louis in a fast-paced contest Saturday afternoon, and it came right down to the wire. In the end, Kevin Labanc played the hero by tallying the game-winner in overtime to lift the Sharks to a 3-2 victory.

Here are three takeaways from the matinee:

Blues goaltending at the forefront

DeBoer told the media before Saturday’s contest one of the Sharks’ biggest challenges was going to be breaking through the Blues’ goaltending.

“They're playing with that confidence great goaltending gives you,” he said. “It's a good test for us."

San Jose had to grind to get the puck past Jake Allen, who made colossal saves throughout the game – including a few notable stops in the final minutes of the third period as the Sharks tried to break a 2-2 tie. Ultimately, they stepped up to the challenge of getting past a hot netminder.

On that same note …

Credit to third-period play

You really do have to hand it to the Sharks. They’ve been turning on the jets late in the games on their current homestand, despite the fact they’ve been missing key players due to injury and a chunk of the team suffered from the flu.

San Jose heavily outshot St. Louis in the third period on Saturday, holding the visitors to just two shots on goal for the majority of the frame. The Sharks' efforts in the final minutes of regulation were particularly impressive, as they continued to pepper Allen with chances.

For a team that expects to go deep into the playoffs, this is a trend they’ll want to continue.

[RELATED: Why one fan made Karlsson pitch with parody song]

Timo time, times two

The Swiss forward is back to that dominant level he reached at the beginning of the season. He scored both of San Jose’s regulation goals in the first period – one on the power play, and the other after catching a sweet back-handed pass from Logan Couture. 

Meier was gunning for that third goal for the rest of the game, only to be stymied by a clearly in-the-zone Allen. While he still hasn’t tallied his first career NHL hat trick, Meier is heating back up at just the right time. 

Sharks vs Blues watch guide: Projected lines and defensive pairs

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USATSI

Sharks vs Blues watch guide: Projected lines and defensive pairs

SAN JOSE -- The Sharks have the opportunity on Saturday afternoon to complete a perfect homestand and take over first place. First, they’ll have to get past the St. Louis Blues.

Team Teal enters the matinee matchup still trying to get their team healthy. Despite defeating the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday, members of the team are still fighting off the flu, mainly captain Joe Pavelski and Norris Trophy hopeful Brent Burns.

Winger Evander Kane practiced during the week although an undisclosed injury continues to keep him out of the gameday lineup. Erik Karlsson remains out of the lineup and could potentially be out for the duration of the regular season.

The Blues visit San Jose having won their last two contests. They currently sit in third place in the Central Division standings, five points behind the Nashville Predators.

This is the third time the Sharks and Blues will play each other this season, having already split the season series at a game apiece. In 100 total contests between the franchises, San Jose holds a 41-50-2-7 record.

Sharks projected lines and pairs:

Timo Meier – Logan Couture – Joe Pavelski
Joonas Donskoi – Tomas Hertl – Kevin Labanc
Marcus Sorensen – Joe Thornton – Gustav Nyquist
Micheal Haley – Barclay Goodrow – Melker Karlsson

Radim Simek – Brent Burns
Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Tim Heed
Brenden Dillon – Justin Braun

Martin Jones – projected starter
Aaron Dell

Blues projected lines and pairs:

Brayden Schenn – Ryan O’Reilly – Jaden Schwartz
Patrick Maroon – Tyler Bozak – Robert Thomas
Zach Sanford – Oskar Sundqvist – Alex Steen
Mackenzie Maceachern – Ivan Barbashev – Sammy Blais

Joel Edmundson – Alex Pietrangelo
Jay Bouwmeester – Colton Parayko
Vince Dunn – Robert Bortuzzo

Jake Allen – projected starter
Jordan Binnington