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Takeaways: Sharks at forefront of Stanley Cup conversation after moving into first place

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — A historic night capped off a historic road trip as the Sharks became just the sixth team in NHL history to go 4-0 on a full Western Canada road trip.
The trip is even more impressive considering that the Sharks received full marks while playing without Erik Karlsson, who missed his eighth consecutive game on Monday with a muscle injury in his lower body. The Sharks also posted the perfect record by earning road wins over the NHL’s second-best home team, the Winnipeg Jets, and the Western Conference’s most-potent offensive squad, the Calgary Flames.
With Monday’s win, the Sharks also leapfrogged the Flames and Jets with 75 points, moving into first place in the Pacific Division and the Western Conference for the first time this season.
Here’s what we learned as the Sharks extended their winning streak to six games with a 7-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks:
1. The Sharks are now at the forefront of the Stanley Cup conversation.
In 10 weeks, the Sharks went from not even close to the front of the pack.
The Sharks move into first place puts an exclamation point on a remarkable turnaround that started on Dec. 2 after the team got thumped by the woeful Ottawa Senators in Karlsson’s homecoming to his “forever city.”
Earlier in that trip, Logan Couture said the Sharks weren’t even close to being in the Stanley Cup conversation following a 5-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Nov. 28. Now, they’re at the forefront of that discussion, posting a 22-6-2 record since they held a closed-door meeting with general manager Doug Wilson in Montreal on Dec. 2. The Sharks are leading the NHL in scoring over that span by averaging 4.27 goals per game.
“Obviously we weren’t happy with our play going into that game in Montreal,” Evander Kane said. “That was a key moment where we all made a choice to start playing the right way and battle hard. It’s paid off so far.”
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Over the last six weeks, the Sharks have picked up a string of wins over the NHL’s top contenders, a list that includes the Golden Knights, the Flames, the Jets, the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Washington Capitals and the Tampa Bay Lightning, who carried a 16-game point streak into the Sharks 5-2 win on Jan. 5.
“We’ve beaten some good teams and we’ve put together some good stretches, so it feels good to get rewarded,” Joe Pavelski said. “That’s how you climb up the standings — consistency.”
With 25 games left on the schedule, the Sharks will need to keep that consistency and momentum going down the stretch to win the Pacific Division title, a race that carries additional weight this season.
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At this point, the Western Conference features five legitimate contenders, the Sharks, Jets, Flames, Nashville Predators and Vegas Golden Knights. After that, the competition falls off a cliff. The Sharks can give themselves an easier road to the Stanley Cup Final by winning the Pacific Division, earning a first-round matchup with a wild-card team. The prospect of going through the Golden Knights, the Flames and then either the Jets or Predators to reach the final is daunting.
“There’s some good teams there,” Pavelski said. “Being in first would help.”
2. Joe Thornton continues to carve his name into the NHL’s record books. 
As the Sharks put together a historic road trip, Thornton continued to carve his name into the record books on a near-nightly basis. On Thursday, he collected his 1,000th point with the Sharks. On Saturday, he tied Gordie Howe for ninth place on the all-time assists list. On Monday, he recorded a hat trick of milestones.
First, Thornton moved into 15th place on the NHL’s all-time games played list, passing Shane Doan and Johnny Bucyk as he suited up for his 1,541st career game. Then, he passed Howe, picking up his 1,050th career helper by setting up Kevin Labanc’s fourth goal in two games at 17:30 of the second. The assist also tied him with Teemu Selanne for 15th place on the all-time scoring list as he earned his 1,457th career point.


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