Reuters - Fri, 09 Apr 06:48:00 2010
The San Jose Sharks reclaimed sole possession of top spot in the NHL Western Conference thanks to a 4-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks.
Evgeni Nabokov (pictured) made 30 saves as the Sharks (50-20-11) moved two points clear of the idle Chicago Blackhawks ahead of their final game against the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday.
The Blackhawks (51-22-7), who had tied the Sharks in the standings on Wednesday, will finish ahead of the San Jose courtesy of more wins should the teams tie at the end of the regular season.
Chicago have two contests left to play against the Colorado Avalanche on Friday and the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday.
"You know what, that's something we've got to handle," San Jose center Joe Pavelski said, of his team not controlling their own destiny.
"That was up to us earlier, we could have gotten another point, a few more wins."
Pavelski opened the scoring at 18:35 in the first period for the Sharks while Logan Couture, Joe Thornton and Manny Malhotra added goals in the second to put San Jose four ahead.
The Canucks (48-28-5), who have clinched the West's No. 3 seed by winning the Northwest Division, made a late push on third-period goals from Pavol Demitra and Andrew Alberts but lost their second straight.
Vancouver attempted 13 shots in the third but it was too little too late for a team that rested Winter Olympic gold medallist Roberto Luongo and instead played goaltender Andrew Raycroft.
Despite the Canucks sitting key players, both teams competed meaningfully and the third period turned particularly physical, producing 76 combined penalty minutes.
The Sharks had six players in the penalty box at one time with defenseman Niclas Wallin being one of the worst offenders, cited for fighting, roughing and misconduct.
"We perhaps lost our composure a little bit, but what I liked about it was there was emotion in there," said Sharks coach Todd McLellan.
One plus for Vancouver was Henrik Sedin assisting on Demitra's goal to register his 108th point of the season, the leading tally in the NHL.