SAN JOSE -- After a disorderly first three months of the regular season that included two seven-game win streaks and a miserable February, the Sharks are finally on the verge of clinching a playoff spot.
The Sharks, riding a three-game win streak, need to earn one point in today's 5 p.m. game against the Columbus Blue Jackets at HP Pavilion to earn a trip to the playoffs for the ninth straight season.
It's no small coincidence the Sharks' successful run since early March has a lot to do with their work on special teams, particularly the power play, which, at 19.6 percent, is 10th best in the NHL and fourth best in the Western Conference.
The Sharks are 7 for 27 on the power play in 10 games this month and going into Sunday, have scored with the man advantage in four of their last five games.
Compare that to February, when the Sharks went 3 for 52 with the man advantage in 12 games and grabbed just eight of a possible 24 points.
"The power play, whether it gets eight chances or one or two, you have to try and get that goal," said Dan Boyle, who leads all Sharks defensemen with 13 power play points. "Whether you're 1 for 8 or 1 for 2, you just have to try and chip in a goal and not worry so much about the percentages."
The Blue Jackets, with 49 points and two games left after Sunday, would not be able to catch the Sharks if San Jose earns one point Sunday. The Dallas Stars also cannot catch the Sharks.
Just five weeks ago, the Sharks were a candidate to finish the season on the outside looking in, as four straight losses had the team in ninth place. From the start of February to March 12, when they lost 4-2 to St. Louis, they had won just two times in regulation.
Since that loss to the Blues, the Sharks are 13 for 51 on the power play, as stalwarts Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture started to click like they did at the beginning of the season.
Couture and Marleau credited the simple things — better puck movement which opens up shooting lanes and getting traffic in front of the net.
"We're getting back to what we did at the start of the year. Get the puck, shoot it, get it back, shoot it again," said Couture, who has three power play goals this month. "That's what all good power plays do. — get pucks to the net. We're able to set up a couple set plays and score some goals on it."
It's probably too simplistic to say that as the power play goes, so go the Sharks. But since March 12, San Jose is 9-1 in games in which it has scored at least one power play goal. The Sharks are 4-3 with one loss in overtime in games they have not scored on the power play.
In two lopsided losses to the Blue Jackets this season, the Sharks were 1 for 4 with the man advantage.
"You need special teams to win games and I think the power play's been doing it for us the last month," said Marleau, who has two assists on the power play this month. "We have to continue to do that. You look at the start of the year and how much success we had early on in the power play, that was a big reason why we got off to a good start."