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Coyotes 4, Sharks 1

March 15, 1997

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) _ NHL teams are learning they have to get to the Phoenix Coyotes early or not at all.

Winning its 21st game without a loss when leading after one period, Phoenix defeated last-place San Jose 4-1 Friday night. The loss further damaged the Sharks’ hopes for a playoff run _ unless you ask Sharks captain Todd Gill, perhaps the most optimistic man in the league.

``Our goal remains the playoffs, and we want to make the playoffs,″ Gill said. ``But I guess we have to win every game to do it.

``We can’t look at winning 15 straight games. We need to look at winning tomorrow.″

Phoenix is the team making the real playoff run. Behind goalie Nikolai Khabibulin’s 26 saves, the Coyotes are now 4-1-1 in their last six games and are aiming for a first-round home playoff series.

For once, Keith Tkachuk did not shoulder the bulk of the scoring responsibility. Jeremy Roenick, anchoring a new line with Craig Ronning, scored one goal and assisted on another.

``Ronning’s line came up big,″ Tkachuk said. ``With them scoring, it helps us make a playofff drive.″

Tkachuk scored his 40th goal of the season on an empty-netter with 13 seconds left.

Khabibulin, who registered three shutouts last week for the Coyotes, drew the praise of Phoenix coach Don Hay.

``Since the All-Star break, he’s just gotten stronger and stronger,″ Hay said.

Roenick’s power play goal at 4:01 of the first period, a wrist shot from the slot past San Jose goalie Kelly Hrudey, put Phoenix up 1-0.

Two more quick goals in the second period, both at even strength, settled the outcome as Roenick played a big role.

While the Sharks were trying to force the puck out from behind their own net, Roenick intercepted a clearing pass and fed Dallas Drake for his 12th goal just 1:32 into the period.

Barely a minute later, Shane Doan scored for a 3-0 lead. Taking Craig Janney’s pass from behind the net, an uncovered Doan pushed the puck past Hrudey with 17:23 left in the second.

The Sharks scored with 8:58 left in the second period when Vlastimil Kroupa’s precise pass from the wing found Tony Granato in the slot. Granato slipped it under Khabibulin at close range for his 19th goal.

The loss dropped San Jose’s record to 23-38-7, last in the Western Conference and 13 points out of the last playoff spot.

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