Last 10: San Jose 5-4-1; Tampa Bay 5-3-2
Season Series: Eastward end of a bi-coastal home-and-home, the opener on Dec. 21 began with a dream fast start for the Sharks. A handful of pucks found the net in the first 14:47 of play, setting a new franchise speed record for five unanswered opening goals and one shy of the team record for most goals in any single period. The win gave the Sharks their sixth in their last seven meetings with the Lightning since the work stoppage, outscoring them 31-13.
Big Story: They call it the "tennis trip," a long road swing the Sharks take annually while HP Pavilion hosts the SAP Open tennis tournament. At nine games, it's the longest and most challenging of the season and it comes at a time when the Sharks need to open up some space in the Pacific Division. The Kings have hung close, only three points behind despite scoring the fewest goals in the League, and the Coyotes aren't far back either. On the other hand, time and available points are beginning to run out for the Lightning, still eight points behind Toronto for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but at 2-3-2 over their last seven games, not playing at a level that inspires hope.
Sharks: Winning road games is never easy, but strong special teams can take some of the stress out of them, and the Sharks left the Tank having scored in seven of their last 14 power-play chances. That fizzled in stingy St. Louis, as the Blues not only killed all four of the Sharks' opportunities, but scored on a pair of 5-on-3 chances in a 3-0 home win. Winging over to Washington, the man-up took flight again as they went 3-for-6 in a 5-3 defeat of the struggling Capitals.
"We challenged our guys. We said it's up to them," coach Todd McLellan said. "They can choose to be on their heels or they can get on their toes and get after them. I'm glad they chose the second."
"It was really important for us," Joe Pavelski said in the San Jose Mercury News. He cranked in a pair of goals as part of the fourth 4-point night of his career. "We didn't want to go 0-2 on a nine-game road trip. You see what can happen with Chicago (currently 0-6-0 on an eight-game trip). It just keeps snowballing and it never gets easier on the road."
Lightning: Saying it and doing it are two different things. When points and remaining games are tight, every game is supposed to take on playoff intensity, but in Tuesday's 4-0 home loss to the Senators, the Bolts couldn't find that extra edge to finish on plays. They had shots and chances, but no results, save for being shut out at home for the first time this season.
"They gave everything they had," Boucher told the team's official website. "But we just couldn't score again. We keep getting wide-open opportunities and we keep missing the net, so it's been a puzzle for us. We felt if we kept doing what we were doing, those Grade A chances would give us something. That's what's tough for me to accept. At some point, it's supposed to pay off and it hasn't."
Who's Hot: Pavelski added a 9-for-9 faceoff performance and three blocked shots to his 4-point night in D.C. He now has 6 points in his last four games. Joe Thornton was held off the board in the St. Louis shutout, but bounced back with 3 assists against the Caps, giving him 12 points (4g, 8a) in his last seven games. Ryane Clowe has 7 points (1g, 6a) in his last six games. … Steven Stamkos came up empty in back-to-back games for the first time since Dec. 21-23, but had 10 points in a prior six-game streak. Martin St. Louis has a three-game scoreless stretch on the heels of a nine-game point streak that was capped off with a hat trick on Feb. 4.
Injury Report: Sharks defenseman Jason Demers (lower body) is still on injured reserve, but is skating on his own and could return during the road trip. Martin Havlat (surgically repaired hamstring) is still expected back before the end of the regular season. … Lightning defenseman Matt Gilroy (upper body) is day-to-day after getting hurt against the Sabres on Saturday.
Stat Pack: With the win in Washington, the Sharks are now 6-2-1 in the second of back-to-back games. Only the Red Wings are better in the West at 8-3-0. … Patrick Marleau's 2 goals put him in the NHL's top 100 career goal scorers. His 379 tallies tie him with ex-teammate Claude Lemieux and Ted Lindsay for 99th all time. … After a top-five finish last season, the Lightning power play continues to confuse just about everyone, as a 7-for-72 schneid has dropped them to 29th in the League overall at 13.3 percent. Fortunately, those numbers are skewed by a League-worst 9.0 percent on the road and improve to a 10th-place 18.8 percent at home.
Puck Drop: One reason why the Lightning are keeping the faith about their postseason chances is they close out February playing five of their next seven games against conference opponents, three of which are in similar straits chasing the final playoff spot.
"It's disappointing. But we're keeping our heads up," Vincent Lecavalier said to the Lightning's official site. "We're not just sitting back and not doing anything about it. We have to turn the page and look ahead to San Jose."