GLENDALE -- The San Jose Sharks are heading toward their biggest game of the season. The Phoenix Coyotes have reached the point of no return in their bid to make the playoffs.
Logan Couture, Tommy Wingels and Joe Pavelski scored during a 7:11 span of a dominant second period as the Sharks all but ended Phoenix's postseason hopes with a 4-0 win at Jobing.com Arena on Monday night.
Matt Irwin finished off the scoring on the power play with 1:27 left and Antti Niemi stopped 35 shots for his 23rd career shutout and fourth of the season as the Sharks improved to 51 points and set up a showdown with fourth-place Los Angeles on Tuesday night in San Jose.
Jason LaBarbera, playing for the injured Mike Smith, made 37 saves but couldn't deal with a second-period onslaught when the Sharks unleashed 23 shots and didn't stop scoring until they had the Coyotes by the neck.
“Big points,” San Jose captain Joe Thornton said. “We haven't played particularly well here in the past and to win like this was huge. You could just feel (after the first period) that if we could keep grinding them down deep in their end we would eventually wear them down.”
Phoenix is stuck at 43 points and in 11th place with six games left. With the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets both winning Monday, the Coyotes would likely need to run the table to avoid missing the postseason for the first time in four years.
“We just have to keep playing and keep trying to score goals,” said Coyotes forward Mikkel Boedker, after his team was shut out for the seventh time this season and sixth time in the last 20 games. “That's all we can do.”
Niemi made 16 saves in the third period to preserve the shutout and is one shy of Smith and Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators for the League lead.
Smith suffered a lower-body injury in practice on Sunday and was unable to make it through Monday's morning skate. He had stopped 114 of 119 shots in his last four starts and had shut out the Sharks in four of his past season appearances against them.
“He came in this morning and said he couldn't play,” Phoenix Head Coach Dave Tippett said.
“We didn't think it was going to be an issue but it ended up being an issue.”
Tippett said his team is still trying hard.
“But we need some players to make a positive impact on the game. Not just be in a sweater, but actually do something that impacts the game,” he said. “Right now, we just don't have enough of those guys.”
A former Coyotes player made an impact right away. Just 10 seconds into his first shift against his old team, San Jose's Raffi Torres blasted Phoenix defenseman Keith Yandle in the neutral zone, then rocked an elbow into Yandle's face during an exchange in the front of the Phoenix crease a few minutes later. The Coyotes outhit the Sharks 14-6 in the period, but Torres had the memorable ones.
“I never go out looking for hits,” Torres said. “I go out there to play the game, it doesn't matter who's out there. You have to go out there and play hard. That's my job. If I'm not doing that then I'm not effective.”
Both teams also had golden opportunities in the period. Boedker was set up between the circles by a Kyle Chipchura feed and hit the crossbar with Niemi down and out 12 minutes into the game. With 50 seconds left in the period, Couture pounced on a Yandle turnover and swooped in alone, but LaBarbera smothered the puck and period ended scoreless.
The Coyotes used dominant second periods to sweep a three-game homestand two weeks ago. This time the second period was all Sharks.
LaBarbera made nice saves on Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton before San Jose broke through at 8:50. Marleau's pass from behind the net set up Jason Demers for a shot from the circle. LaBarbera stopped it, but the rebound went right to Couture for the easy finish.
San Jose doubled the lead 1:48 later. Antoine Vermette won a faceoff with Pavelski in the Phoenix zone, but the puck wound up on the stick of Wingels in the left circle. Wingels whirled a backhander that beat LaBarbera over the left shoulder and under the crossbar -- and the Sharks had the Coyotes on the run.
Pavelski capped the period with a hand from Torres, who stole a puck in the neutral zone and turned into a two-on-one rush. He fed Pavelski, whose shot from the right circle deflected off a stick and beat LaBarbera over the glove to put San Jose in control.
Pavelski's 13th goal of the season was his 15th goal and 30th point in 40 career games against Phoenix.
“I think we came out in the first (period) with a pretty good effort and kind of had the game under control and then in the second period they ramped their intensity up and we didn't match it,” Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. “Unfortunately they beat us.”
FIVE FOR PHOENIX
1. Defenseman Keith Yandle, who was born and raised in the Boston area, wrote the words ‘Pray for Boston’ on one of his skates in recognition of the tragic events at the Boston Marathon on Monday. Click link to read more. http://bit.ly/16ZDb1Z
2. Center Martin Hanzal led the team with 10 hits and co-led the team with four shots on goal.
3. For the second time in three games, Head Coach Dave Tippett opted to play seven defensemen instead of six.
4. Prior to Monday, the Coyotes had not lost to San Jose on home ice since March 26, 2011.
5. A moment of silence was observed before the game in the wake of the tragic events at the Boston Marathon on Monday.