Ray Carlin/Icon SMI)
In the Western Conference’s version of “Super Tuesday,” two marquee Pacific match-ups featured teams with similar campaigns but very different results of late.
The Los Angeles Kings defeated the San Jose Sharks 5-2 and the Dallas Stars edged the Phoenix Coyotes 4-3 in a shootout.
Dallas clung to the top spot in the Pacific, which they earned in large part because of a recent 10-game point streak that included nine wins.
Mike Ribeiro had three assists and the shootout winner, as his line with Loui Eriksson and Michael Ryder accounted for all three goals and the nine points that Dallas registered.
“Those guys are elite players,” Ribeiro said. “They can score, they can pass, they can play well defensively and do everything right on the ice. It’s easy to play with those guys.”
Dallas failed to protect leads of 1-0 and 3-1, ceding a point to the Coyotes in the process.
“Most of the chances they had were chances that we created for them,” Ribeiro said.
Phoenix has wobbled since their 12-game point streak with 11 wins in February.
They lost five straight to start March and have since alternated wins and losses in their last six games.
The Coyotes now sit in a points tie for eighth with Los Angeles, but the Kings hold both the primary and secondary tie-breakers with Phoenix.
In 11 games in March, the Coyotes have scored first just once. Tuesday was no exception, as they surrendered a goal to Eriksson 2:14 into the contest.
“We’ve been in that spot too many times. We’re spending too much energy chasing from behind,” winger Lauri Korpikoski said.
Similarly, both the Kings and Sharks find themselves scrapping unexpectedly for playoff berths this season.
San Jose had won the Pacific in each of the last four seasons, with designs on the Stanley Cup this year. Los Angeles seemed to be nearing the culmination of a major rebuilding effort as they were in pursuit of a third straight playoff berth.
Recently, the Sharks endured a dismal stretch where they won just three of 15 games. This week, they have already turned in a pair of lackluster efforts in a pair of divisional games.
“You look at tonight’s game and yesterday’s game, we’re back in the funk. Just because we won two games didn’t mean we were out of it,” Sharks defenseman Douglas Murray said. “Every shift counts, this is playoff hockey, there’s a couple points separating who’s in and who’s out.”
Meanwhile, the Kings have won their last five games as part of an eight-for-ten stretch.
They vaulted into the playoff picture with their win Tuesday. Still, they will face San Jose twice more head-to-head as well as the Presidents’ Trophy favorite St. Louis Blues and defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins.
The once underpowered Kings have built a robust forward rotation on the fly. They have also gotten solid play from Slava Voynov and Alec Martinez on the blue line since the departure of Jack Johnson.
They seem to be inching closer to being the deep, dynamic club they expected to be out of the gate this season.
“We’re definitely showing signs,” center Anze Kopitar said. “There’s obviously always room for improvement but tonight was a huge game. We knew what was at stake and I think we came up big. It was a full team effort and that’s what we’ve got to do down the road.”
Pacific Division Notes
Michal Handzus, T.J. Galiardi and Tommy Wingels all missed another game Tuesday for San Jose … The Kings new forward group with Jeff Carter and rookies Dwight King and Jordan Nolan drew praise from San Jose captain Joe Thornton and head coach Todd McLellan … Anaheim’s Nick Bonino had a career-high three assists against San Jose Monday … Sheldon Souray and Radek Dvorak returned to the Stars lineup Tuesday, while Michael Ryder scored his career-best 32nd goal of the season.