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.”
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.”