One season after bottoming out in February on the way to missing the playoffs for the first time since 2003, the San Jose Sharks are heading into the stretch run with perhaps their deepest team in years and realistic hopes of making a post-season run.
Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton each had three points to key a dominant performance from San Jose's top line, and the Sharks beat the visiting Montreal Canadiens 6-2 on Monday night for their sixth victory in the past seven meetings between the teams.
"It's real impressive," Thornton said. "Any night it can be another line doing the damage. It's fun to be a part of, and when you're winning it's obviously fun. We've got a real deep team and it's an exciting team to watch right now."
Pavelski had two goals and one assist, while Thornton scored one goal and assisted on two others. Brent Burns also had a goal and two assists, and Melker Karlsson and Nick Spaling added goals to help the Sharks move within two points of second-place Anaheim and four points of leader Los Angeles in the Pacific Division. Martin Jones made 21 saves.
It's a far cry from last season when San Jose lost 10 of 13 games in February, going winless in eight games on home ice, to fall out of the race.
"You can just feel the energy that the team brings every night," said centre Chris Tierney, who had two assists. "We're in a good spot right now and hopefully we build up to the playoffs and try to make a run at it."
Brendan Gallagher and Torrey Mitchell scored for the Canadiens, who lost in regulation for the first time in five games. Montreal fell seven points behind Pittsburgh in the chase for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Mike Condon made 30 saves.
"I don't think we can be happy enough with our effort," Gallagher said. "We allowed them to have too much time and space and good players are going to take advantage of it. There's things we can control every game and our compete level and battle level wasn't where it needed to be."
The Sharks' top line controlled the game from the start, generating the first three goals for the team. The first came in the opening minutes when Pavelski adroitly deflected a shot-pass from Justin Braun right to Thornton at the side of the net. Thornton tucked in the puck for his 15th goal to make it 1-0.
After Gallagher tied the game when his bad-angle shot from the corner sneaked past Jones, San Jose's two Joes teamed up again. This time Thornton fed Pavelski in the slot from the side boards and he beat Condon with a quick one-timer for his 28th goal of the season.
The top line was at it again early in the second when Thornton made a nice entry and fed Burns for a wrister that beat Condon. The 36-year-old Thornton leads the NHL with 44 points since Dec. 15 and has 60 overall.
The Canadiens made a game of it midway through the second when Mitchell batted a puck out of the air past Jones to make it 3-2 before San Jose took over in the third despite having played the previous day in Vancouver.
Karlsson batted in a perfect saucer pass from Tierney, and Spaling knocked in a rebound of Logan Couture's shot in the opening 3:37 of the period. Pavelski added his second goal late in the third.
"We dug deep in the third period," coach Peter DeBoer said. "We knew we had a day off tomorrow and it was the end of a long couple of weeks. Guys found a way and I thought our third was excellent considering the circumstances."