SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) -Although Evgeni Nabokov gets visibly uncomfortable in the spotlight, the San Jose goalie allowed himself to enjoy it for a moment after his 50th career shutout.
Nabokov just hopes his fellow Sharks will keep taking the attention away from him over the next few weeks as they build toward a sixth straight playoff run.
Nabokov made 27 saves for his third shutout of the season, and the Sharks clinched a playoff berth while climbing back atop the Western Conference standings with a 3-0 victory over the Dallas Stars on Thursday night.
``I wanted to get this one out of the (way), but I think it's more important for the way we played,' Nabokov said with a shrug. ``Maybe the shutout will help, I don't know.'
Defensemen Dan Boyle and Rob Blake scored power-play goals in the second period for San Jose, which has won two straight after an 0-5-1 skid over the previous 10 days. Nabokov took each of the Sharks' five regulation losses during the skid, giving up 19 goals and worrying fans about his playoff readiness.
``It's a building process, getting ready for the playoffs,' Nabokov said. ``I think that's more important, and that's what we wanted to do. ... We can play this way, where we don't have many turnovers and we don't give up too many odd-man rushes, if any.'
Just as he's done in previous seasons, Nabokov is pulling himself out of a late-season funk while lifting his teammates. He has 39 victories to tie Los Angeles' Jonathan Quick and Phoenix's Ilya Bryzgalov for the second-most in the league behind New Jersey's Martin Brodeur (40).
This shutout wasn't the toughest of his career, but it included a handful of stunning saves, including a sprawling breakaway stop in the final minute.
With sturdy defense and 41 shots on Dallas goalie Marty Turco, the Sharks formally clinched their another postseason trip while earning their 100th point in the first of three games at the Shark Tank in four days. San Jose, which has four straight 100-point seasons, also jumped one point ahead of Chicago, which has a game in hand on the Sharks.
``As much as it's about us coming out of the forest, it's great to see Nabby only giving up one goal in the last two games,' Sharks coach Todd McLellan said.
Logan Couture scored his second NHL goal in the third period for the Sharks, whose power play had managed just one goal during the just-completed six-game trip before connecting twice against Dallas, which has one of the NHL's worst penalty-killing units.
``Yeah, (penalty-killing) is a concern,' Dallas coach Marc Crawford said. ``We couldn't win a draw tonight, which was significant. At least we had lots of opportunities to work on it tonight. ... The players have to get a feel for what is being called, and that was very tough tonight, very tough.'
Turco stopped 38 shots for the 10th-place Stars, who are nine points behind Detroit for the West's final playoff spot with eight games to play - and the Red Wings have a game in hand. Dallas' near-.500 play over the past two weeks simply hasn't been enough to keep up with the surging Wings.
``Marty played well,' Stars defenseman Nicklas Grossman said. ``He made a lot of saves for us. We have to help him out a little bit. ... We had a few penalties called against us and they took advantage and we had to start chasing the game. Their goalie played extremely well.'
San Jose's skid started with an overtime home loss to lowly Florida and went on to include losses to four more teams likely to miss the playoffs: Anaheim, Dallas, Calgary and Edmonton. The slump ended with a win at Minnesota earlier this week, and McLellan stuck with the same reconfigured lines from that game.
``Obviously, we learned something there,' McLellan said of Minnesota. ``We used that same recipe again tonight, and now it's (about) how long can we hold on to that recipe and continue playing this way, because it is the right way to play.'
Dallas annually is among the Sharks' toughest opponents, winning nine of its previous 12 games in San Jose - but without Mike Modano, who had an appendectomy 10 days ago, the Stars weren't as intimidating.
After Boyle scored his 400th point early in the second period, Blake added another power-play goal less than 3 minutes later when a rebound of Patrick Marleau's shot ricocheted right to him in the slot. The San Jose captain's goal was his first in 16 games since Feb. 6 - and the 135th power-play goal of his career, tying him with Paul Coffey for the career NHL lead.
NOTES: Dallas lost RW Krystofer Barch to a skate cut on the back of his leg. Crawford wasn't certain of the injury's severity. ... Blake is the 10th-leading goal-scorer among defensemen in NHL history (239). He is 18th in points among defensemen (772). ... Sharks RW Jed Ortmeyer played in his 300th NHL game after missing the previous three games because of a lower-body injury. C Scott Nichol sat out with an upper-body injury.
The Associated Press News Service
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