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Thursday, February 23, 2012
Sharks fly close to the danger zone

By Pierre LeBrun

TORONTO -- The San Jose Sharks have had their reality check. Now we’ll see if they’re going to do something about it in the last quarter of the season.

On autopilot for much of the season as the Pacific Division leaders, a sudden stumble that has seen the Sharks win only two of their past nine games has them sitting just four points out of the danger zone in the Western Conference.

"We’re in a fight to make the playoffs right now," captain Joe Thornton said Thursday after the morning skate at Air Canada Centre.

"We had been pretty consistent until this point," Sharks winger Ryane Clowe told ESPN.com. "We’re in a tough rut now. We’ve been leading the division pretty much the whole year but we need to realize we’re just a couple of points from the playoffs. We haven’t been playing really desperate lately, that’s for sure. But I think we have a really good grasp on our team and we feel confident we’ll finish the season strong and get on a good streak here."

The perennial Cup contenders and back-to-back Western Conference finalists could use a little goaltending, that’s for sure. Antti Niemi has really struggled of late, but you have to assume the 2010 Stanley Cup champion will shake it off at some point.

Thornton refused to blame the goaltending.

"We don’t blame anybody," the star center said. "We’ve been giving up too many Grade A chances. Both our goaltenders have been playing well all year. We’ve got to give them some support with coming down low, blocking shots and doing the little things to not let those Grade A chances happen so much."

Whether their GM will add another piece or two over the next few days remains to be seen. Doug Wilson made a nice acquisition in third-line center Dominic Moore last week and Wilson might not be done. Injury updates about star winger Martin Havlat and top-four blue-liner Douglas Murray will influence his decision ahead of Monday’s 3 p.m. ET trade deadline. If he gets bad news on either player, my guess is he will step up his efforts to land a player for that position. If the updates are positives, maybe he stands pat.

And what about Rick Nash? The Sharks won’t admit it, but sources confirm to ESPN.com they’ve had a few chats with the Columbus Blue Jackets regarding their for-sale captain. Nash has San Jose high on his list of destinations because he played in Davos, Switzerland, with Thornton during the lockout season.

It’s believed the opening demand from the Jackets began with Sharks center Logan Couture. And that sound you heard was the Sharks hanging up the phone. There is absolutely zero chance the Sharks would trade Couture. I’m not even sure they’d want to trade Couture for Nash one-for-one, let alone make him part of a package.

And so, unless the Jackets’ demands dramatically lower over the next few days, it seems like Nash is either Broadway-bound, L.A.-bound or stuck in Columbus for the rest of the season.

The players in the Sharks' room can’t escape the trade talk, especially since they’ve been in hockey-crazed Toronto the last few days.

"I liked us picking up Dominic Moore, I think that’s going to help us," Clowe said. "Other than that, it’s hard to say what else will happen. We’re pretty confident in our team as is."

The bottom line is the Sharks need to get their game back to where it needs to be if they have any chance of making a run for the third spring in a row.

"You don’t want to limp into the playoffs," Thornton said. "You want to be playing good hockey. We’ve got 24 games left, so we have to play some good hockey to get there."