SAN JOSE -- Teams talk about the need to enter the playoffs at the top of their game, and the Sharks made a pretty convincing case Thursday night that they may be nearing that altitude.

Matching their biggest offensive outburst of the season, San Jose cruised to a 6-1 victory over a Minnesota Wild team that was breathing down their necks in the standings.

"We all like where our game is," Sharks captain Joe Thornton said. "We can still improve in some things and we've still got some games in the regular season to win, but we keep getting better, and it's a perfect time for that."

Linemates Marty Havlat and Logan Couture each had two goals, and Raffi Torres and Joe Pavelski added one each. Goalie Antti Niemi stopped 27 of the 28 shots he faced, giving up a goal to Pierre-Marc Bouchard while taking over the NHL lead with 23 victories.

In addition to his two goals, Couture added two assists, one of them on his most impressive play of the night. In the second period, he leaped off the ice against the glass behind the Minnesota net to block a rimmed clearing attempt, then quickly passed the puck to Havlat for his second goal and a 3-1 lead.

"Athletic, smart, great execution," coach Todd McLellan said of Couture's play. "The way he's been playing lately, he's been driving our bus right now."


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McLellan also praised Havlat, who has struggled at times this season but added an assist for his first three-point game as a Shark.

"His game has really come on over the last three weeks, basically since he got healthy last time," McLellan said. "Skating, making plays, not pulling up, shooting the puck a little bit more."

The tight standings provided incentive for both teams, as a Minnesota victory in regulation would have moved the Wild ahead of San Jose. Instead, San Jose kept pace with the Los Angeles Kings in their battle for fourth place.

Havlat opened the scoring against his former team with a shot-pass directed at Couture. Instead, the puck wound up on the stick of Wild captain Mikko Koivu who redirected it into his own net at 7:42 of the first period.

Tick-tack-toe passes from Thornton and Patrick Marleau set up Couture for a power-play goal at 5:29 of the second period and a 2-0 lead, but Bouchard got that one back a few minutes later, beating Niemi on a breakaway.

Couture's leap and pass to Havlat restored San Jose's two-goal lead before the period ended.

"I was lucky," Couture said. "I was able to reach behind my head and knock it down. I looked right up and saw Marty in the slot, so we'll take it."

Two Sharks goals 22 seconds apart early in the third period ended whatever suspense remained.

First Torres showed his speed by beating Wild netminder Niklas Backstrom to the far post on a wraparound at 3:59. On the same shift, Pavelski scored to chase Backstrom from the game as backup Darcy Kuemper got some mop-up work.

Couture's second goal of the night on a pass from Havlat at 9:15 wrapped up the scoring.

  • A 7-year-old Sharks fan whose tear-filled reaction to the trading of Ryane Clowe became a YouTube favorite got a chance to meet players and get their autographs Thursday.

    Vincent Savage of San Ramon was captured on video crying over the April 2 trade of Clowe to the New York Rangers as his mother, Lauren, tried to console him.

    The team invited Vincent and his mother to the Sharks morning skate. Afterward, the two were ushered into the locker room and Vincent talked with players.

    For more on the Sharks, see David Pollak's Working the Corners blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/sharks. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/PollakOnSharks.