Sharks Need to Find Their Killer Instinct With Playoffs on Horizon

It's something of a hockey cliché to -- after a team scores a go-ahead goal -- turn around and say: "Okay, now go get the next one."

It may be an overused phrase, but that's how it works. And it's something the Sharks have struggled doing during the last month of the regular season.

Tuesday night's game against the Vancouver Canucks demonstrated this hole in San Jose's game yet again.

After overcoming an early 1-0 deficit to skate into the first intermission with a 2-1 lead, Team Teal had the opportunity to build on that momentum and shut Vancouver down.

They didn't, and the Canucks registered three unanswered goals in the third period en route to a 4-2 win over the Sharks, 

"Tonight was a good chance for us, up 2-1 going into the third, for us to get that playoff-type third period down and we just didn't do that, unfortunately," Joe Thornton told the media after the game.

Joe Pavelski agreed.

"We had chances to break it open 3-1, and we didn't do that," Pavelski said.

That's perhaps what San Jose needs more than any other aspect of its game with the playoffs just a week away.

Through this last leg of the regular season, the Sharks have continued to insist their big need is to get healthy before the playoffs start. What they also need to do is harness that killer instinct to get that next goal.

Going into the third period of a game with either a tie or a one-goal lead isn't new to this Sharks team. According to @SharksStats, 21 of the Sharks' 44 wins this season have been the product of a game-winning goal scored in the 3rd period or overtime. That's a lot of wins not being determined until late in the game. 

On one hand, this can reflect come-from-behind victories -- think of that third-period comeback they mounted against the Predators in Nashville back in October, or their OT victory over the Vegas Golden Knights just this past weekend. Then again, Hockey Reference tells us the Sharks are just 14-8-4 when they are tied with their opponent after one period of play, and 7-5-4 when they go into the third period of games with a tie. San Jose is getting opportunities to create space when it has a lead or make a big push when games are tied, but more times than not, the opponents are able to creep back into the game.

So, what has to change? Is it tightening up the defense after getting the go-ahead or game-tying goal? Is it getting more saves from Martin Jones when games are tight? (To be fair, he made some big saves Tuesday before ending up on the wrong end of a weird game-tying goal by Vancouver.) Really, the Sharks need a mix of all of those factors if they're going to put teams away instead of letting them hang around.

The Sharks must find the ability to close, so that late-game let-ups, like the one against the Canucks, don't happen once the regular season is over, and playoffs get underway.

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