Sharks aim to stay hot vs. fading Coyotes

If the playoffs were to start right now, San Jose would open its first-round matchup on the road. That isn't the ideal situation for the Sharks, who on Wednesday try to move into the fourth seed in the Western Conference as they take on a Phoenix Coyotes club on the verge of being eliminated from the postseason race.

The Sharks have won four of their past five games and Tuesday's 3-2 victory over the Dallas Stars clinched the club's ninth straight trip to the playoffs. They have as many points as the fourth-place Los Angeles Kings, but the defending champions own the current tiebreaker with seven more non-shootout wins.

Both teams have two games left to play and the Kings are visiting the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday night. San Jose will then visit Los Angeles to close the regular season on Saturday.

The idle St. Louis Blues are just one point behind the Sharks and Kings with two games to play as well.

The Sharks needed just one point last night to lock up a playoff spot, but got two thanks to third-period goals from Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture 30 seconds apart. Raffi Torres also scored and Antti Niemi made 24 saves.

"It was a crazy year. It's obviously not over yet," Couture said. "Just the 48-game schedule, so many games back-to-back and inconsistency of the seven- game winning streak, the big losing streak and then the stretch we've gone on now. It's been a weird year. Our main goal from day one was to get into the playoffs. We've done that now so I guess that's all that matters going forward."

Couture was referring to the 0-4-3 stretch that followed San Jose's season- opening seven-game win streak, the best start in franchise history.

Consistency has also plagued the Sharks at home and on the road. They are 17-2-5 in San Jose this season and 8-12-2 as the visiting club.

The Coyotes, meanwhile, reached the Western Conference finals last season, but enter play on Wednesday five points back of the eighth spot in the West with just three games to play. They were blanked 4-0 by the Detroit Red Wings in their last trip to the ice on Monday.

"Things don't look like they're in our favor right now," said Phoenix head coach Dave Tippett. "But there's no quit in this group. We'll come home and take it one game at a time."

Mike Smith gave up three goals on 22 shots for the Coyotes, who have lost five of their past seven while getting shut out three times in that span. That includes a 4-0 home loss to San Jose on April 15.

Niemi made 35 saves in that game, Tommy Wingels had a goal and an assist and Couture also scored for the Sharks, who have won three of four versus the Coyotes this season and snapped a four-game slide in Phoenix.

Jason LaBarbera allowed all four goals on 41 shots for the Coyotes.