Perhaps the red-hot Colorado Avalanche just did not have any legs left on the second of back-to-back nights. The host San Jose Sharks had a two-goal lead just 10:11 into the game and never looked back Friday, April 11.
After the Avalanche scored to draw back to within one, Marty Havlat registered another hat trick for San Jose—their second natural trick (three unanswered goals) in the 2013-14 NHL season—in under half of the third period. The game was close for a sum of 10:08 on the two sides of the second intermission.
While Colorado may have been weary, San Jose was getting reinforcements: Tomas Hertl made a rather surprising appearance before the Stanley Cup playoffs. He played hard, with two shots on four attempts and a takeaway in 15 minutes. He even had edge, taking a penalty for boarding.
Then again, Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Matt Nieto rested because this game meant almost nothing for the Sharks in the standings. The only thing that was left to earn in Stanley Cup seeding before the game—home-ice advantage in the unlikely event that both they and the Chicago Blackhawks advance to the Western Conference finals—is now a point away from being earned.
For the Avalanche, this game meant enough to pull a goalie with five minutes to go. Losing to them means their season-ending visit to the Pacific Division champion Anaheim Ducks could come after the hosts have clinched the top spot in the Western Conference, but could still be playing for the President's Trophy.
Moreover, the St. Louis Blues host the Detroit Red Wings in the final game of the season. If they get more points than Colorado, they capture the Central Division title.
San Jose was playing to get ready for a Stanley Cup playoff first-round matchup with the Pacific Division rival Los Angeles Kings. This is the team that has been seen twice in the postseason, with each team winning one tough series as the higher seed.
That spot belongs to the Sharks, but the Kings won the 2013-14 NHL season series and have the ultimate edge as the last Stanley Cup champion to win after a full season. Playing a series like this requires everyone to be on his game.
San Jose scored first when a Matt Irwin hit sprung a counterattack about three minutes in. Joe Thornton got the puck deep from Brent Burns, then found Dan Boyle at the stop of the circle. The veteran skated down before shooting one in off the far post—his fourth goal in seven games.
Just past the mid-point, Logan Couture forced a turnover that gave him a secondary assist when Havlat fed Patrick Marleau streaking into the Colorado zone. His slap-shot goal went over Reto Berra's shoulder, chasing him from the game.
The Sharks failed to clear a puck in the final five minutes of the second period, and Ryan O'Reilly scooped it up. Maxime Talbot was camped by the crease and took the pass, then fed it across for the one-timer goal by Patrick Bordeleau.
Havlat started his sixth career hat trick with a little luck, but even that was partially earned. Not only was he in front of the net when Couture took the pass from Marleau toward the slot, but he had played well all night long before he got the goal for having it bounce off him.
The next goal came on a great breakaway feed from Bracken Kearns, who got the puck from Andrew Desjardins. Jean-Sebastien Giguere saved the initial shot, but Havlat put in the rebound. His last goal came on an empty net, with Couture picking up his third assist of the game.
Both teams lost players on their blue lines. Tyson Barrie saw limited action after a crushing hit from Jason Demers, but it is unlikely to be serious since he did try to return. Scott Hannan took an elbow to the head from Bordeleau and did not travel with the team for Saturday's 2013-14 NHL season finale.
The main thing this team can do is focus on health going into the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. That includes in San Jose's game that has been struggling of late.
This was a complete performance as the Sharks have played since their initial run after the 2013-14 NHL season broke for the Sochi Olympics. They took care of the puck, winning four more faceoffs and having three more takeaways. Still, the Avalanche had one more giveaway.
San Jose faced three more shots but attempted eight more. Colorado blocked one more (but a lower percentage of shot attempts allowed) and had 10 more hits. Some of these numbers would be more impressive if not for playing with an ample lead.
There was no questioning Dan Rusanwsky's three stars of the game...
Marty Havlat had three goals on four shots and five attempts, plus added a primary assist on Patrick Marleau's goal. He had jump all night long and played on different lines, though perhaps just from being a transition player on the line change. However, he did have four giveaways.
Antti Niemi has been too shaky to automatically be the starter for the Stanley Cup playoffs. He should have to out-perform what Alex Stalock did Friday in the 2013-14 NHL season finale Saturday to keep the job over someone playing better.
The only goal Stalock allowed was humanly impossible to stop, giving him 32 saves and a .970 save percentage. His giveaway was a small price to pay for the way he moves the puck, and his season-long 1.91 goals-against average went down four points.
Logan Couture had three assists and three shots on four attempts offensively, plus one hit and five faceoff wins (but eight losses) on the other end. He has five goals and 10 assists in his last 16 games, and was third star on the his bobble-head night as well as Fan Appreciation Night.