By Mary Walsh
SAN JOSE- Thursday night, San Jose defeated Tampa Bay 5-1, but it was not the way a 5-1 game usually looks. Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi had to make a lot of good saves and some very tough ones. Four Sharks scored, with two goals coming from Tommy Wingels, and one each from Brad Stuart, Brent Burns and Patrick Marleau. Despite the team having many good chances, the only Lighting player to score was Tyler Johnson.
The big news of the night was that Brent Burns was back in the game for San Jose. His line did have their moments, but they were not as dangerous as they had been earlier in the season. Head Coach Todd McLellan didn’t sound too worried about them:
Burnzie’s line with Jumbo and Thomas, it’ll take some time to get their legs going again, and feel each other out, but they’ll be back to where they’re supposed to be.
Before the game, the question was raised: would the Sharks be ready to compete, after two days off and just one practice since their last game? McLellan acknowledged that it was a gamble:
Now that we won, I’m glad that we took those days off. I still think there were a few guys that didn’t have their legs because of it. But we made it through the night and they’ll be better tomorrow. Hopefully by the time the New Jersey game rolls around everybody will be real fresh. You take the chance of overresting at times.
The Logan Couture line with Patrick Marleau and Tommy Wingels turned some heads, though hardly with surprise. They have been consistently productive players for the team. They were the most dangerous scoring threat of the night. After the game, McLellan said of that line and the Joe Pavelski, Martin Havlat, Tyler Kennedy line:
That whole line played very well, against their top players for most of the night. I also thought that Marty, Pav and TK had a really good night. Those three looked like they belong together and played well. So, good balance through those two lines.
A point of curiosity was how the Tampa Bay Lightning plays without Steven Stamkos. It turns out, they play a lot like they did with him. Obviously they could not replace his scoring touch, but they did prevent the Sharks from sustaining extended zone time. The shot clock reflected a game of traded chances, ending 37-36. That is very close except that in victory, the Sharks habitually outshoot their opponents by a sizeable margin.
The first four minutes of the game were uneventful except for one very good first shift from Logan Couture’s line that resulted in several shots but no points. They didn’t score until their next shift, when Tommy Wingels scored from the left faceoff circle. Assists went to his linemates, Couture and Patrick Marleau.
Eight minutes into the period, Tampa Bay asserted themselves in the Sharks’ zone after stripping the puck at the Sharks’ blue line. A couple of shots later, San Jose iced the puck to get out of trouble. The Sharks regained their composure when the fourth line of James Sheppard, Andrew Desjardins and Mike Brown drove play the other way. They held the offensive zone for San Jose until the next whistle.
At 14:43, Tommy Wingels was called for tripping Valteri Filppula. The Lightning had a good long spell with six skaters before Wingels finally cleared the puck. That was enough for the referee to blow play dead.
The penalty kill unit was Hannan, Marleau, Pavelski and Brad Stuart. Tampa Bay’s power play was not easy to chase off. In fact, the Sharks skaters did not get a chance at a shift change for the full two minutes. Tampa Bay managed several shots, but it brought to mind the old saying: if they didn’t have bad luck they would have no luck at all.
The beleaguered but successful penalty killers seemed to inspire the Sharks because they finally sustained an attack. Stuart came back out, recovered from his penalty killing marathon. The puck came to him above the faceoff circle and he slapped it past Tampa Bay’s goaltender Anders Lindback.
With 51.9 left in the first, Victor Hedman went to the box for holding Marleau. The Sharks didn’t dawdle this time, but Tampa Bay still managed a short handed rush, this time it was Nate Thompson and Tyler Johnson. The Sharks pushed back and got one shot off before the period ended.
The period ended with the Sharks leading 2-0 on the scoreboard and 18-12 in shots.
The Sharks started the second period on the power play. With Thornton, Couture, Marleau, Pavelski and Boyle on the ice, Lindback stopped two shots before the power play expired. Havlat came out on a line with Kennedy and Desjardins. The makeshift line was quickly trapped in their own zone. The second line came out for a defensive zone draw and managed two rushes up ice before going off, but without being able to do much more than one and done shots. The top line of Thornton, Burns and Hertl had no more success. Tampa Bay was very attentive to their defensive duties. Niemi had to be sharp, though Tampa Bay rarely got more than one shot on net in a stretch.
Once they had some distance from the penalties, McLellan reverted to his starting lines.
About seven minutes in to the second period, Scott Hannan just missed with a hard one-timer from the half boards. The puck landed square on his stick off a beautiful backhand pass from Havlat. That was followed by a good chance to jam it home for Kennedy. The Sharks were finding a way to sustain the attack beyond one shift, but Lindback held on.
Another good shift from Couture’s line seemed about to fail when Patrick Marleau got the puck behind the net. He passed the puck past a Lightning defenseman, right to Tommy Wingels in front of the net. Wingels’ second of the game put the Sharks up 3-0.
Tampa Bay outshot the Sharks in the second period, 12-9 but had yet to make one of those shots count for a goal.
The third period opened with the Couture line on the ice. Both that line and the Thornton line that followed spent most of their shifts defending, until the end of the top line’s shift when they did get a draw in the offensive zone. The Pavelski line after them managed extended time in the zone but not many shots.
At 4:23, the top line finally got their point. A shot from Scott Hannan above the faceoff circle was deflected in by Brent Burns. Assists went to Thornton and Hannan.
Seconds later (19 to be exact), Patrick Marleau skated in around a blue and white defender and back-handed it over the goalie for the Sharks’ fifth goal. Assists went to Logan Couture and Justin Braun.
The Tampa Bay Lightning finally got on the board with a breakaway shot from Tyler Johnson at 7:39. Assists went to Ondrej Palat and Richard Panik. Niemi had been very sharp up until then, and he had to be. The Sharks had allowed too many shots for comfort.
Tampa Bay, with nothing left to lose, pushed hard. The Sharks, with as much motivation as a team with a four-goal lead can have, had trouble getting through the neutral zone and their infrequent forays into the offensive zone did not last long.
The final shot count was 37-36 Tampa Bay, but the count that mattered read 5-1 San Jose.
The Sharks’ scratches were Matt Irwin, John McCarthy and Matt Nieto.
The Sharks next play Saturday at 7:30 at SAP Center in San Jose, against the New Jersey Devils.