Dallas Stars left wing Loui Eriksson (21), of Sweden, reaches for the puck in between San Jose Sharks center Joe Pavelski (8) and center Patrick Marleau (12) during the first period of an NHL hockey game in San Jose, Calif., Tuesday, April 23, 2013. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
SAN JOSE, Calif. - One month after being mired in ninth place in the Western Conference, just hoping to squeeze into the post-season, the San Jose Sharks have clinched a ninth straight playoff berth and can now push for home-ice advantage in the first round.
Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski scored goals 30 seconds apart late in the third period to help the Sharks clinch the playoffs in their final home game of the season with a come-from-behind 3-2 victory over the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night.
"There's a sense of relief, but it can't be a sense of relaxation," coach Todd McLellan said. "When we came in we immediately looked at what happened tonight around the league, and there's still a chance for home ice. It would be a nice thing to have."
Raffi Torres also scored for the Sharks, who moved into a tie for fourth place in the West with Los Angeles with two games remaining in the race for home-ice advantage. The Sharks visit the Kings in the season finale on Saturday after playing at Phoenix on Wednesday night.
It's been quite a roller-coaster season for the Sharks, who won their first seven games, lost 17 of the next 23 before going on their current 12-3-1 stretch to save their season.
"It was a crazy year. It's obviously not over yet," Couture said. "Just the 48-game schedule, so many games back to back and inconsistency of the seven-game winning streak, the big losing streak and then the stretch we've gone on now. It's been a weird year. Our main goal from day one was to get into the playoffs. We've done that now so I guess that's all that matters going forward."
Antoine Roussel and Loui Eriksson scored for the Stars, whose playoff hopes were dealt a serious blow. Dallas remains two points behind ninth-place Detroit and three behind eighth-place Columbus in the race for the final playoff spot. The Red Wings have a game in hand over both teams.
The Stars end the season with home games against Columbus and Detroit and need to win both and get help to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
"It's very disappointing," defenceman Stephane Robidas said. "We battled hard all night. Since the deadline, everyone had written us off and here we are. I think everyone has shown a lot of character. We needed a point tonight but couldn't get it. It's very disappointing."
Dallas looked as though it would gain two points behind a strong night from Kari Lehtonen but it was all erased in a flash late in the third period.
First, Pavelski tipped Brad Stuart's point shot in with 5:37 remaining to tie the game.
While the sellout crowd was still celebrating that goal, Justin Braun's point shot went to Patrick Marleau who slid the puck to an open Couture, who knocked in his 20th goal of the season.
"Basically a full game of frustration turned into happiness with the go-ahead one there," Couture said.
Lehtonen made 34 saves but had no chance on Couture's game-winner with 5:07 remaining.
"They had been pressing and we had had good goaltending the whole game and we just couldn't hold them at the end when we needed to," coach Glen Gulutzan said. "We need help now. So we are going to have to bounce back, and we need help. We have to get two more wins."
Antti Niemi made 24 saves in his 24th straight start for San Jose.
The teams traded goals in the first period with the Sharks striking first. Torres tipped in a centring pass from Scott Gomez for a power-play goal, and the Stars answered when Roussel beat Scott Hannan to a long rebound of a shot by Cody Eakin.
Dallas had chances to take the lead when Stuart was sent to the box for interference with 1:21 remaining on an elbowing penalty against Hannan. The best chance on that 5-on-3 came when San Jose's Justin Braun was stopped on a partial breakaway by Lehtonen.
Shortly after that two-man advantage ended, Marc-Edouard Vlasic was called for slashing at the end of the first period giving Dallas 28 seconds more of 5-on-3 play to start the second.
The Stars didn't squander that chance when Eriksson knocked in a rebound 17 seconds into the period to make it 2-1.
Lehtonen protected that lead the rest of the period, making tough stops on Vlasic, Dan Boyle and Andrew Desjardins to keep Dallas ahead heading into the third.
NOTES: Stars F Alex Chiasson, who scored three goals in two wins over San Jose earlier this month, sat out with a shoulder injury. ... San Jose D Jason Demers missed his second straight game because of a lower-body injury. ... The Sharks sold out every regular-season game for the third straight season.
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