Penguins Take 3-1 Series Lead With 3-1 Win

By Mary Walsh

AP photo: The Pittsburgh Penguins celebrate after defeating the San Jose Sharks in game four at SAP Center on Monday night

SAN JOSE- The San Jose Sharks fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 3-1, giving the Penguins a 3-1 series lead to boot. After the game, Sharks head coach said: “There’s no quit in our group. We’re the best road team in the league. We’re gonna show up and try to get this back here for Game 6 and play to win four, this isn’t over.” Then he went on:

We’ve been chasing the game the whole series by not scoring first so that takes you out of your four line… it effects all parts of your game. We’ve been on the other end of that in the playoffs where we jumped out to a lead on some teams and made them change their game. But I think that’s probably the biggest thing we have to fix. We’ve got to find a way to get on the board early in the game instead of chasing them.

Scoring first may require more than a tweak, but the Sharks game on Monday was fairly different from the first three games in the series.

Five minutes into the third period, Logan Couture sent Patrick Marleau up the slot all by his lonesome but Matt Murray stopped his shot. Both teams had chances in flurries but that one was a microcosm of the Sharks’ woes in Game 4. They did the things they had failed to do in prior games: staying even and leading in shots, winning faceoffs, getting zone time, blocking shots. And still they trailed on the scoreboard. Perhaps the one lopsided stat was the key: giveaways. The Sharks more than doubled the Penguins there. At one point in the game, it was almost triple.

Through the first six minutes of Game 4, there was just one shot, from San Jose. Both teams were pushing shooters to the outside when possible and blocking shots.

At 7:36, Phil Kessel and Ian Cole skated into the Sharks zone and, while three Sharks attended to Kessel, Cole found the pass and shot from the other side of the ice. It was Cole’s first goal of the post season. Assists went to Kessel and Evgeni Malkin.

Down by a goal, the Sharks had to kill an interference penalty to Marc-Edouard Vlasic at 11:37. They did, but the Penguins’ shot count had gone up by two, so the it was now 6-2 Penguins.

The Sharks had their chance on the power play at 14:45 when Ben Lovejoy went to the box for holding the stick.

The top unit held the zone and took a couple of shots but did not score. With almost a minute left, DeBoer sent the second unit out. They did not score either but neither did they get evicted from the zone before the power play expired.

The teams traded chances for the rest of the period, and at the end of 20 minutes the score was 1-0 Penguins, the shots 8-6 Sharks.

Melker Karlsson was called for interference just 2:28 into the second period, putting the Penguins power play back on the ice. It took them eight seconds to score, as a tipped shot from Kris Letang got past Martin Jones to Malkin, who was waiting at the far post to nudge it over the line. It was Malkin’s first goal of the series and fifth of the playoffs. Assists went to Phil Kessel, who tipped it, and Letang.

The Sharks got their second power play at 17:33 of the second. Bryan Rust was called for hooking Brent Burns. The Sharks power play did not start out with much traction. The second unit did not look much better, and with 10 seconds left in the penalty, gave up a nearly three on one going the other way. Sharks skaters caught up before any real damage could be done but they ended the power play with a defensive zone draw, and still trailing by two goals.

Melker Karlsson lifted the crowd’s spirits with a goal at 8:07. He was back on a line with Nick SPaling and Chris Tierney. The line charged into the Penguins zone and held a little riot around the net until finally Karlsson could see an opening. He took the shot while falling but managed to lift it over Murray. Assists went to Chris Tierney and Brenden Dillon.

The third period forward lines were: Couture centering Ward and Marleau, Tierney centering Karlsson and Spaling, Thornton centering Pavelksi and Donskoi. Wingels, Nieto, and Zubrus were seen but little in the third. Wingels and Zubrus did not take a shift, and Nieto took only one. The cut-backs started in the second period, where Zubrus and Wingels only had three shifts in the latter part of the middle frame

Another oddity in the lineup was evident in the third, with the defensemen being shifted around. It was not clear if this was due to some power play time or intentional line mixing. Braun and Dillon were on the ice together, and then Paul Martin and Roman Polak. For the final two minutes of the game, Vlasic and Burns were on the ice, but that was after Eric Fehr had scored another goal, assisted by Carl Hagelin and Olli Maatta.

Apart from the sound of some exuberant Penguins fans, a hush settled over the Tank. One last call for cheers and towels waving had some effect. With 1:25 left in the game and probably the last home game of the season for San Jose, the crowd waved and cheered.

The Sharks pulled their goalie with a little more than a minute left in the period and racked up some shots, to no avail.

Final score: 3-1 Penguins, with a series status to match. Game 5 will be in Pittsburgh on Thursday at 5:00PT.

Sharks Win Game 3 in OT, Climb Back in Series

By Mary Walsh

AP photo: San Jose Sharks Joonas Donskoi celebrates with teammates after scoring winning OT goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins at SAP Center on Saturday night

SAN JOSE–The San Jose Sharks defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final Saturday, by a score of 3-2. The Sharks now trail in the series 2-1. The game winning goal came in overtime from rookie Joonas Donskoi. Joel Ward and Justin Braun also scored for the Sharks, while their goaltender Martin Jones made 40 saves on 42 shots for the win. Ben Lovejoy and Patrick Hornqvist scored for the Penguins. It was the Sharks’ first overtime win this post season.

There was some talk about the Sharks being wide-eyed on their first trip to the Stanley Cup Final. There may be something lost in translation, but Joonas Donskoi, first-year NHL player, does not seem particularly nervous. Asked what it felt like to score probably the most important goal in Sharks history, he said: “I think I had a lot of scoring chances through the whole Final, and this was a good time to get it in.”

The game was the first time the Sharks won a majority of the faceoffs against the Penguins. The Sharks had three power plays and scored on none of them. Neither team scored on the power play. The Sharks won on the strength of their even strength play. It was an impressive change from Games 1 and 2.

The headliners for both teams were kept off the highlight reels Saturday. Of how Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun handled Sindey Crosby’s line, Sharks head coach Pete DeBoer said: “I thought Vlasic and Braun… you have to mention Brauny when you mention Vlasic too, I thought those two were excellent tonight, both ends of the rink, Brauny got a goal, defending, playing big minutes, they were fantastic.”

Melker Karlsson started the game in Tomas Hertl’s spot with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, and the line had a good first shift. At 2:58 of the first, the Penguins were given a power play as a result of a call on Joel Ward for high sticking. Oddly, his stick did not appear above waist-high while the player he struck was bent down with his head low. It was odd because Ward took a stick to the face while falling that even drew blood in Pittsburgh, but that was not called.

The Sharks also seemed impatient with the penalty and went after the kill with determination. It was only after the Sharks killed the penalty that the Penguins scored off a shot from the blue line. The puck touched Roman Polak in front of the net. The goal was Ben Lovejoy’s.

As the ten minute mark approached, the Sharks still only had one shot on goal to the Penguins’ 8. They had not looked that bad. As if on cue, Justin Braun scored. He got the puck from Joe Thornton near the middle of the blue line, and with Melker Karlsson skating through the crease as a moving screen, Penguins goaltender Matt Murray never saw Braun’s shot coming. It sailed clean into the top right corner to tie the game. Assists went to Thornton and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

The Sharks were not as bad as their shot count. Through the game, the Penguins blocked 38 shots. After the game, Joel Ward was asked about that number: “That’s a good sign. If you’re playing in the offensive zone, they’re blocking shots, you’re getting opportunities. So, just keep firing away.”

The Sharks were energized after Braun’s goal. The Penguins’ Phil Kessel had a breakaway shortly afterwards but Sharks goaltender Martin Jones stopped the shot and a defender came in fast to carry the puck away again.

The Penguins continued to outshoot the Sharks but in the final five minutes of the period, the Sharks racked up a good four shots and were generally looking stronger. The Penguins spent some time in the Sharks’ zone but both teams were doing a pretty good job of keeping the other to the outside and under heavy guard.

At the end of the first, the score was tied and the shots were 14-6 Penguins.

Early in the second, the game shifted gears for rougher terrain. Brent Burns took a punch to the face in the Penguins crease while trying to poke a puck past the goalie, and after that Justin Braun hauled a Penguin to the ice in the Sharks’ zone, but neither act was called as a penalty.

A little later, Chris Tierney and Joel Ward had a two on one chance but Penguins goaltender Matt Murray handled it. It served as a reminder that the Sharks had given up far too many two on ones in earlier games, and they seemed to be doing a better job of preventing them this time.

In the tenth minute of the period, the Sharks held the Penguins pinned in their zone for a long enough spell to draw a tripping penalty from Carl Hagelin. This gave the Sharks their first power play of the game. The Penguins killed it, but not without giving up a few more shots.

After 10 minutes, the Penguins had two shots on the period. After 15 minutes, they still had two. The Sharks had eight in the first fifteen minutes.

Just after the announcer proclaimed that there was one minute left in the game, Ben Lovejoy picked up a puck that looked like it was going out and threw it back at the net to regain the lead. The puck went off of Patrick Hornqvist, with assists to Ben Lovejoy and Olli Mattaa. It was the Penguins’ sixth shot of the period.

Almost five minutes into the third period, Nick Bonino caught Joe Thornton with a high stick and drew blood. It took the Penguins almost ninety seconds to clear the puck the first time. The power play seemed to lose energy after that and with 1:19 left in the penalty, DeBoer took his time out and gave his top power play unit a rest. That helped them a little but they still could not convert.

The second unit came on with seconds left in the penalty. The Penguins cleared the puck to the neutral zone. The Sharks stopped it short and went the other way. Joel Ward took the puck up the slot. With a Penguin between himself and the goalie, he took what must have been a deceptively hard shot. The puck went over Murray’s left shoulder, bending his glove back and tying the game just as the penalty expired. It was Ward’s seventh of the post season, with assists going to Joonas Donskoi and Joe Thornton.

At the end of regulation, the score was tied at two and the shots were 33-22 Penguins.

The first seven minutes of overtime went back and forth with grueling suspense. The Penguins were outshooting the Sharks 5-1. The Sharks lines seemed jumbled, whether by incomplete line changes or actual line adjustments. In any case, Chris Tierney, Melker Karlsson and Joonas Donskoi were in the Penguins zone stirring things up behind the net and along the boards. At 12:18, Donskoi carried the puck behind the net and came out the other side, then spun and shot in a quick motion. The game winner was Donskoi’s sixth goal of the playoffs. An assist went to Chris Tierney.

For Game 4, the teams will return to SAP Center in San Jose. Game time is 5:00 PT.

Sharks Thump Preds 5-1

By Mary Walsh

AP photo: San Jose Sharks Joe Pavelski and teammates enjoy the jubilation after Pavelski’s goal against the Nashville Predators in game five at SAP Center Saturday night

SAN JOSE–The San Jose Sharks roundly defeated the Nashville Predators by a score of 5-1 on Saturday. Most of the games in this series, including the triple overtime Game 4, have been much closer than that. On Saturday, it certainly seemed that the Sharks had no interest in any more overtime. They kept playing right up to the final horn.

Two goals came from Joe Pavelski, one from Melker Karlsson, one from Logan Couture and one from Patrick Marleau. Joonas Donskoi and Justin Braun each had two assists and Maetin Jones made 24 saves on 25 shots. The lone Nashville goal was scored by Mike Fisher, while Pekka Rinne made 23 saves on 27 shots.

Game 5 of the series is one the Sharks won and the Predators lost against their respective first round opponents. For them to repeat the pattern in the second round allows for tempting parallels. Nashville’s head coach Peter Laviolette was asked about how that first round experience can apply to this second round.

I think any time you’re in playoff hockey, experiences that you gain, good and bad, you learn from them. Just because we did something last round…. we gotta put the work in and make sure that we’re playing the game with the attitude that we need to be successful. So, yeah, we can take things from that but we’ve got to change our mindset here.

Sharks head coach Pete DeBoer made a few changes to his lineup before the fifth game of their series against the Nashville Predators. He replaced forward Tommy Wingels with Dainius Zubrus, and recomposed the fourth line to include Zubrus, Melker Karlsson and Nick Spaling. Patrick Marleau moved to the second line with Logan Couture and Joonas Donskoi, and Joel Ward played with Chris Tierney and Matt Nieto.

Of the changes to the second line, DeBoer said after the game: “I thought it was Patty’s best game of the series and that line was excellent all night. Some changes work, and tonight that change worked.”

DeBoer also explained the other changes to his lines, which hinged somewhat on the performance of Chris Tierney:

I think there was a couple of things. I think the play of Tierney, I think he has been playing well. I felt he could jump into that third line role. Spaling’s naturally a center, that allowed him to get back into position. But we’re not comfortable making that move unless Tierney’s playing well and he has been playing well.

The end result of all this was a 5-1 win, giving the Sharks a 3-2 series lead over the Nashville Predators. The Predators were in this same spot against the Anaheim Ducks in the first round. They came back to win games six and seven. After Saturday’s game, Predators head coach Peter Laviolette talked about what a team can learn from that sort of comeback:

The first few minutes of the game looked like a Predators penalty kill, the Sharks spent that much time in the offensive zone. After six inutesm the shots were 7-1 Sharks. By the ten minute mark, the Predators had closed the gap to 8-3 Sharks. The Sharks were shooting a lot in the first period.

That new line scored the first goal. Donskoi got control of the puck in the left corner, and danced around with it a bit, finally heading behind the net. The Predators didn’t quite buy it but they bit enough and started to follow him. He made a quick backhand reverse pass in the direction of Logan Couture, who was below the faceoff circle. Patrick Marleau was also closing on that spot and as the puck came between two defenders, Marleau put it in the net. It was Marleau’s third goal of the post season, and Donskoi’s third assist.

The Predators tied it at 15:40 after Colin Wilson’s pass from behind the net found James Neal on the inside edge of the faceoff circle. Neal had to reach for the puck so his pass was not very hard, but it got to Mike Fisher by the blue paint. Fisher had an open net with Jones high in the crease.

The Sharks took the lead back at 17:21 with a goal from Joe Pavelski. The Sharks circled the net with passes, from Thornton to Burns, to a wide shot collected by Hertl to the left of the net and passed back around the boards to Thornton. They repeated the same cycle a couple of times, with any strays cleaned up by Marc-Edouard Vlasic at the other point. After this routine had time to hypnotize everyone, Thornton changed it up and sent the pass to Pavelski, who was hanging out in the slot. His one timer went home for his seventh goal of the post season, with assists to Thornton and Vlasic.

At the end of the first, the shots were 13-11 Sharks.

35 seconds into the second period, Logan Couture took advantage of a Predators turnover in the neutral zone, and skated in all alone. He made a few quick moves with the puck and, when Rinne came out to meet him a little bt, he went for a back hand that went through the five hole. It was Couture’s fifth goal of the playoffs, with assist to Donskoi and Justin Braun.

The Sharks took the first penalty of the game when Brenden Dillon was called for interference.

Jones stopped a shot from the blue line in the first few seconds. Spaling cleared 30 seconds in, and the Sharks changed penalty killers. Around 1 minute in, the Sharks cleared it again. A few seconds after the next faceoff, the Sharks cleared it again, and a few seconds later, again. Then they knocked it down into the Nashville zone while still in the neutral zone. Almost as soon as the penalty ended, the Sharks were back on the attack in Nashville territory.

The Sharks got their first power play of the game when Roman Josi went to the box for interference on Logan Couture. The penalty came with just 46 seconds left in the period. The Sharks did not need that much time. Joe Pavelski scored just nine seconds into the penalty, off a pass that came from Patrick Marleau behind the net. It was Pavelski’s second of the game.

Ryan Johansen did not like any of that so he tried to bait Paul Martin. Martin did not respond, and eventually Johansen’a antics got him an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty with just 12.5 seconds left in the period.

The Sharks did not start the third on a power play, because with 2.1 seconds left in the second, Joel Ward received a 4 minute minor for high sticking. So the Predators started most of two minutes with the man advantage almost two minutes into the third. The Sharks killed it off, but near the end of it Logan couture blocked a shot that seemed to sting.

He was back out for his next shift.

The Predators finally caught the Sharks on the shot clock with 5:41 left in the game, when the teams were tied at 23. The Sharks did not let up either, and continued to launch serious attacks on the Nashville net.

With 3:59 left in the game, the teams played four on four for just under a minute before the Sharks had a four on three power play.

Ryan Johansen went off for unsportsmanlike conduct, for two minutes and a ten minute misconduct. Also gone for ten minutes was Mike Ribeiro. Joe Thornton went to the box for two minutes for slashing. 57 seconds into the four on four, Nashville’s Anthony Bitetto went to the box for tripping.

That left just over one minute for the teams to play at even strength. The Sharks scored again with 49.7 seconds remaining in the game. Carter Hutton, now in goal for Nashville, was a little late getting back to his net after playing the puck behind the net. Melker Karlsson took a quick shot as he to the crease. Assists went to Chris Tierney and Justin Braun.

Final score: 5-1 Sharks. Game Six will be in Nashville on Monday at 6:00 PT.

Sharks Fend Off Bruins in 3-2 Win

By Mary Walsh

AP photo: The Sharks Logan Couture (39) battles with the Bruins Ryan Spooner for the puck during a second period face off on Tuesday night

SAN JOSE– For the second time this season, the San Jose Sharks defeated the Boston Bruins. The score was 3-2, with Sharks goals from Joonas Donskoi, Melker Karlsson and Brent Burns. With his 26th goal, Brent Burns tied the Sharks record for goals scored by a defenseman in a season, set by Sandis Ozolinsh. With 11 goals and 31 points, Donskoi is the highest scoring Sharks rookie since Logan Couture.

James Reimer made 21 saves on 23 Boston shots for the win. David Krejci and Loui Eriksson scored for the Bruins, with Tuuka Rask making 24 saves for Boston on 27 San Jose shots.

Melker Karlsson opened the scoring for the Sharks at 8:44. After winning the puck along the boards, Karlsson dropped it to Logan Couture and went to the front of the net. Couture sent the puck behind the net to Donskoi, who passed it ahead for Karlsson to put away. Assists went to to Donskoi and Couture.

The Bruins answered back at 11:26. David Pastrnak got by the Sharks defense and took a shot into Reimer’s pads. Reimer kicked the puck back out but right in David Krejci’s wheelhouse. His quick shot went under Reimer to tie the game. Assists went to Pastrnak and Torey Krug.

The first penalty of the game came with just 2:54 left in the first period. It was a hooking call against Jimmy Hayes. The power play did not go very well for the Sharks, and 39 seconds in, Boston scored short handed. Loui Eriksson broke away,and it was the second Boston breakaway in that power play, to beat Reimer and give the Bruins the lead.

The Sharks had one second of five on three, and then the rest of the period five on four against Boston. At the end of the first penalty, David Krejci finished up another breakaway with a slash to James Reimer, after the whistle blew.

The period ended with the Bruins up 2-1 and the Sharks ahead in shots 12-10.

The Sharks finished the remainder of that power play to start the second period. They did not give up another short handed goal and they did add a couple of shots to their tally.

At 11:46, Brent Burns tied the game. Burns made a pass through the slot in the direction of Thornton, but instead the puck hit Ryan Spooner and bounced into the net.

The game winner did not come until the third period, during the dying seconds of another Sharks power play. Jimmy Hayes was in the box for an illegal check to the head of Sharks defenseman Justin Braun. The Sharks’ first power play unit had been unsuccesful, allowing another short-handed chance, this time to Brad Marchand. Marchand also made some little extra contact with Reimer after his shot was stopped. That drew some reaction from the Sharks. The second unit came on with 1:22 left in the power play, with Tomas Hertl taking a defensive zone draw. The Sharks controlled the puck but after their first dump-in the Bruins pushed the puck back out quickly.

Donskoi dumped the puck in on their next entry and the Sharks retrieved the puck along the end boards. A pass from Vlasic to Burns wound up on Burns’ skate. Burns moved the puck from skate to stick, and found Joel Ward on the far side of the slot. Ward waited a beat and picked his shot. Donskoi was in front of the net, with his stick on the ice in front of Rask. The deflected shot went just under the diving goaltender and in the net. Assists went to Ward and Burns.

The Sharks took their first and only penalty at 10:20 of the third period. Donskoi went to the box for holding the stick, but the Bruins power play did not change the score, and the Bruins did not get any shots despite a couple of good attacks.

Back at even strength, the Bruins made a push in the final minutes of the game but the Sharks held them off for the win.

The three stars of the game were Joonas Donskoi, Melker Karlsson and David Krejci.

Sharks forward Tommy Wingels was off IR Tuesday, but did not play.

The Sharks next play on Thursday in Arizona, against the Coyotes at 7:00 PT.

Sharks Win 7-0 at Home

By Mary Walsh

photo credit: USA Today SJ Sharks Tomas Hertl scores on Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Jonathan Bernier in Saturday’s Sharks laugher

SAN JOSE– The San Jose Sharks ran over the Toronto Maple Leafs by a score of 7-0 on Saturday. After the game, Sharks defenseman Justin Braun summed it up: “You can’t ask for much more, you know? Scoring, goalie played great. It’s one of those games you don’t drop and it works out that way.”

It would be an understatement to say that the Sharks have lacked depth scoring over the past dozen games, or even throughout the season. Players like Tomas Hertl, Tommy Wingels, Matt Nieto, Melker Karlsson, and Joonas Donskoi have all failed to pull their weight on the scoreboard. Saturday, they seemed hell bent on making up for that. Only time will tell if they can sustain it, but the 7-0 win on Saturday showed that they can do the job.

The Sharks started the game with distinctly different forward lines. They were: Donskoi-Couture-Karlsson, Pavelski-Thornton-Hertl, Ward-Marleau-Nieto, and Wingels-Tierney-Brown. After the game, Sharks head coach Pete DeBoer was asked whether these new forward lines was the key to success for the struggling players. He said:

I don’t think the line shuffles changed it. I think we’ve got a proud group in there, I don’t think… they weren’t happy about where we were sitting. I think they were smart enough to recognize we were doing a lot of good things. But we needed a little bit more out of everybody. And they fixed that themselves. Now again we have to build on that.

Tomas Hertl scored twice and earned an assist. Joonas Donskoi, Matt Nieto and Melker Karlsson each scored a goal, and Wingels earned two assists. Usual suspects, Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski, scored the other two goals. After the game, Tommy Wingels said:

I think when we have four dangerous lines out there you see the potential that this team has. And if we’re going to make a run and string some wins together, that’s what we’re going to need. Certainly a lot of guys feel better about their games today than they have in games past. Myself, other guys– be happy with it, gain some confidence and continue it on to the next game.

The other guy with a big blinking question mark over his head has been goaltender Martin Jones, who seemed to share his team’s allergy to wins on home ice. His performance Saturday made him look like he was worth the first round draft pick that the Sharks gave up for him. Especially in the first period, while the game was still scoreless, Jones was key. In all, he made 28 saves for the shutout. After the game, he said:

It was a close game before we started scoring in the second there. Obviously we had some timely goals in the second and kind of ran away with it but it was just a solid game from everybody from start to finish.

The Maple Leafs gave the Sharks ample opportunity to score, and the Sharks took advantage. It was the first goal, from Brent Burns, that seemed to open the flood gates for the Sharks. It was a stand out play under any circumstances, but his single-handed incursion early in the second period was pivotal for his team on Saturday. After the game, DeBoer said of the goal:

That was huge, because I thought we were a little tentative, we were almost in that ‘waiting for something to go wrong’ mindset. And he just said **** it and took the puck and that changed the game for us. That play changed the game.

The game did not start off like a high-scoring affair. The Sharks had the first power play, after Jake Gardiner was called for holding Tommy Wingels. The hold resulted in a three-player pile up in the Toronto net at 5:24. Once the officials untangled the players, the Sharks attempted to launch an attack with the man advantage. Their efforts were no real threat to Toronto, and the two minutes elapsed without the Sharks adding a shot on goal.

The Sharks took another swing at the power play with just 2:09 left in the first. Leo Komarov went to the box for boarding Longan Couture. This time, the Sharks did get a shot on goal, one from Brent Burns. The second unit of Ward, Hertl, Donskoi, Burns and Vlasic got another shot in, and another pile up in the goal crease.

At the end of the first period, the shot count was 12-7 Toronto. Five of those San Jose shots were from defensemen, Burns and Justin Braun with two each and Marc-Edouard Vlasic with one. The others were from Matt Nieto and Tommy Wingels.

At 4:18 of the second period, Brent Burns took the game over for a shitf, skated out of the neutral zone and into the offensive zone, fending off defenders most of the way, and put the puck past James Reimer. Assists went to Paul Martin and Joe Pavelski. It was Burns’ 17th of the season.

The Maple Leafs had their turn on the power play at 7:01, when Paul Martin was called for a high stick against Shawn Matthias. The San Jose penalty kill was more effective than their power play had been. Perhaps that is because Matt Nieto and Tommy Wingels don’t get much time on the power play. During the second minute of the penalty kill, Tommy Wingels chased a puck down in the offensive zone. The Maple Leafs seemed to have forgotten about the puck as they made a line change and almost no one went after Wingels. With Nieto darting down the other wing, a lone Toronto defender could not get back in time to prevent Wingels from making a late pass across to Nieto, who put the puck in the open net. Assists went to Wingels and Brent Burns.

The Sharks also killed the penalty.

Dion Phaneuf decided that Wingels was worth a five-minute fighting major, on top of the interference minor he received at the same time. The Sharks power play again lacked inspiration or cohesion.

Ironically, shortly after it expired, the Sharks extended their lead with a Joe Pavelski goal. Hertl’s pass from below the goal line was a thing of beauty, as he threw it behind him while facing the boards, hitting his mark perfectly. Pavelski was where he needed to be, right in front of the blue paint. Assists went to Hertl and Thornton.

Less than two minutes later, Justin Braun took a shot from high in the slot, which Hertl followed to the net. Hertl corralled the rebound and put it lightly over Bernier’s pad for a 4-0 lead. The lone assist went to Braun.

When the period ended, the Sharks were behind on the shot clock 19-21.

22 seconds into the third period, Matt Nieto was called for hooking. Martin Jones had to make several good saves in the first minute, a sign that the penalty killers were not as sharp as earlier in the game. The Toronto power play was also more composed.

A fifth Sharks goal came at 4:10. Chris Tierney caught a pass from Justin Braun at the Toronto blue line and sent it to Melker Karlsson as he darted across the line into the slot. Karlsson put the puck past Bernier and Toronto coach Mike Babcock made a coach’s challenge on the basis of a missed offside call. The challenge was overruled and the goal stood up. While Tierney’s skates were clearly across the line before the puck was, he had full control of it which negated an offside ruling.

Joonas Donskoi extended the lead to six when he took the puck from the half boards, evaded two different Toronto skaters, went behind the net and slid the puck in between skate and post. That was at 9:28 of the third, and assists went to Wingels and Vlasic.

Hertl scored again at 11:22, despite Bernier’s attempts to push him away from the net. Assists went to Braun and Vlasic.

The Sharks next play on Monday in Calgary against the Flames at 6:00 PT.

Sharks Earn “Good Point” in 4-3 Loss to Blackhawks

By Mary Walsh

photo credit: nhl.com San Jose Sharks Marc Edouard-Vlasic

The San Jose Sharks fell 4-3 to the Chicago Blackhawks in overtime Sunday. It was the Sharks’ second loss in a row on this road trip, but it was a much better performance from the Sharks than we saw on Friday. Without several key players, the Sharks took the lead twice and hung in there against a formidable opponent. With this loss, the Sharks fell to 3-7-1 in their last 11 games against Chicago.

Sharks goals were scored by Joonas Donskoi, Tommy Wingels and Joe Pavelski. Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic scored his 200th career point in his 700th career game. Blackhawks goals came from Artem Anisimov, Patrick Kane, Andrew Shaw and the game winner was scored by Jonathan Toews. Chicago’s Corey Crawford made 33 saves on 36 shots.

After the game, Sharks captain Joe Pavelski said:

We gotta stay with it. We gotta stay with it ’cause we played a pretty good game. You know, it wasn’t good enough, that’s a good team over there and they find ways and we needed to find a way tonight and we didn’t.

Sharks head coach Pete DeBoer said:

That’s a good point for us, considering the circumstances. Coming in here, Karlsson went down just before the game, so we’re a little shorthanded. Played a lot of, you know, gave the young guys a lot of good minutes and they held up.

Of the team’s resilience after the second tying goal, he said: “We played a real solid game, I was real proud of our group and the effort top to bottom.”

The Sharks went into the game without forwards Joel Ward and Melker Karlsson. Joel Ward’s injury occurred in the final minute of Friday’s game in Ottawa, when Mark Borowiecky pushed him into the boards. Ward has historically been a very durable player, so for him to be injured bodes ill. After the game, DeBoer said that Karlsson had the flu.

Of Ward’s absence, Tommy Wingels said:

He’s a guy that plays big minutes for us, big situations, plays power play, penalty kill and a lot of five-on-five minutes. I think the guys did a good job of filling his minutes but we’ll see and we hope that he’s ready to go for the next game.

Still without Logan Couture, the team dressed seven defensemen after sending Barclay Goodrow back to the AHL Sunday. Just off of injured reserve, Ben Smith was in the lineup to face his old team. Dylan DeMelo was also dressed to fill out the bench, though the Sharks were still short one forward.

Of all the missing players, DeBoer said:

It’s not just Joel Ward. You know, Joel Ward’s a big missing piece, but when you add Couture and Karlsson to that, it’s a… you know… a second… first/second line for us that’s out of the lineup. It’s a big hole for us but I thought everybody stepped up and did a good job.

The Blackhawks were without forward Marian Hossa and had played the night before.

The Blackhawks took an early lead when Paul Martin lost the puck much too close to the Sharks net. Martin was hooked, causing him to bobble the puck instead of clearing it out of danger, but the officials did not agree. Really, Patrick Kane used his stick in such a way that had the hook on MArtin’s hands been missed, it could have beena tripping call since the stick that touched Martin’s hands was also between Martin’s legs, prying up one knee. The goal went to Artem Anisimov at 4:18.

Joonas Donskoi tied the game just over three minutes later, Patrick Marleau won a faceoff in the defensive zone, kicking the puck to Marc-Edouard Vlasic by the goal line. Vlasic tapped it to Justin Braun, who gave it right back as Vlasic went behind the net. Vlasic carried it around behind the net and sent a pass almost to the Chicago blue line, where Donskoi caught it for a breakaway. Donskoi escaped two pursuers and drew Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford out of position, then put the puck home to tie the game.

At 8:25 of the period, Mike Brown and Brandon Mashinter had a scrap. While they sat in the box, Andrew Shaw was called for interference, giving the Sharks the first power play of the game.

The first unit of Marleau, Pavelski, Hertl, Burns and Thornton did not have much luck, but the second unit of Donskoi, Wingels, Vlasic, Nieto and Marleau gave the Sharks a lead. A pass from Vlasic at the point got to Vlasic aboe the faceoff circle. Wingels sent a shot through traffic, including a good screen by Donskoi, right into the top corner. Assists went to Vlasic and Donskoi.

The lead did not last long. Under two minutes later, Duncan Keith took a shot from the Sharks’ blue line. Martin Jones stopped it, and then stopped another shot from Dennis Rasmussen. He could not stop Patrick Kane as he picked up the puck by the post and bounced it gently off of Jones’ back, into the net. The Sharks challenged the play as offside, but the goal held up and the Sharks lost their timeout. Assists went to Rasmussen and Keith.

The first ended with some minutes of back and forth, all chances being snuffed out early. Neither team managed to get very close to the other’s net.

About six minutes into the second period, Joonas Donskoi blocked a Duncan Keith slapshot with his right kneee and was slow to get up. He stayed on the ice, finally got to his feet and moments later blocked a Niklas Hjalmarsson shot with his left ankle. That got the puck out and he was finally able to get off the ice.

After that, Tomas Hertl took a shift in Donskoi’s spot on a line with Marleau and Nieto. Hertl turned up on various lines throughout the game, as the most-moving piece with only eleven forwards available.

With 5:15 left in the second, Paul Martin took a shot from the blue line, which Joe Thornton slowed down with a touch of his stick. The puck carried on towards the net, where Joe Pavelski stopped with his stick. This aloowed him to slide the puck around the goaltender for his seventh point on the road trip. Assists went to Joe Thornton and Paul Martin.

During the last 12 seconds of the period, Patrick Marleau was called for interference after he skated backwards into Corey Crawford.

The Sharks killed off the penalty, most of it in the third period. 2:15 into the third, Matt Nieto drew a holding the stick penalty. The Sharks did not convert on the power play, and had another chance at 4:35. Patrick Kane went to the box for high-sticking Vlasic, as he followed Vlasic into the corner.

Again, the Sharks did not score and just seconds after the power play expired, Andrew Shaw tied the game. After thwarting a three on one, the Sharks saw Shaw escape Paul Martin in the corner and then put the puck up over Jones’ shoulder.

The second half of the third period was so fast as to make overtime seem redundant. They went to the three-on-three session anyway, since no one scored in the mad scramble that was then end of regulation.

The overtime period was a good one. Where the first overtimes were helter-skelter, and some of the later ones have been too conservative, this one struck a nice balance of speed and defensive awareness. It was still a setting for unexpected situations, like the one that ended the game. The period saw several two-on-ones at both ends, until finally Matt Nieto was the one against Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Kane had just come on the ice as Toews crossed the blue line. The pair made two passes to get around Nieto and then Toews beat Jones on the far side.

Joe Pavelski led the Sharks in hits with 11. Patrick Marleau led in shots with 9. Martin Jones made 28 saves on 32 shots.

The Sharks next play on Tuesday against the Kings in Los Angeles at 7:30 PT.

Sharks Fall to Senators 4-2

By Mary Walsh

AP photo Sens Kyle Turis pushes the Sharks Marc Edouard-Vlasic during first period battle for the puck in Ottawa

The San Jose Sharks lost the third game in their current road trip, falling to the Ottawa Senators by a score of 4-2. As they had the night before in Toronto, the Sharks scored first and then gave up the lead. Unlike the Toronto game, they followed up on a weak second period with a worse third. The Sharks gave the swift Senators too many opportunities, odd-man rushes and power plays. That translated into four goals, three scored in the third period. Those goals were scored by Bobby Ryan, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Chris Wideman and Erik Karlsson. The Sharks’ goals came from Joe Thornton and Brent Burns.

The first period went by scoreless, with just two penalties called in the final five minutes. Both went against Ottawa, but their penalty kill kept the Sharks off the board. In their first power play, a hooking call against Kyle Turris, the Sharks recorded no shots. The closest they came was a Thornton shot that went off off Joel Ward in front of the net. The second power play carried over to the second period, the result of a tripping call against Mark Stone at 19:18. It is worth noting that the penalties were drawn by Joonas Donskoi and Melker Karlsson. After the first period, the Sharks had a slight lead in shots at 13-12.

Ottawa and San Jose both tend to win when they score first, so the first goal was eagerly anticipated, if misleading. It came 29 seconds into the middle frame, during the carry over penalty time. Though they lost the opening faceoff, the Sharks regained control quickly. The top power play unit established themselves in the offensive zone and a quick pass from Brent Burns near the right faceoff circle found Joe Thornton on the opposite side. Thornton’s shot was quick and went through the traffic cleanly into the net. Assists went to Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski.

Just over a minute later, Tomas Hertl was called from tripping, giving the Senators the first of three power plays in the second period, including a five on three. The Sharks killed the penalties but gave up an even strength goal at 4:46. Justin Braun caught a puck in the defensive zone and seemed to be trying to pass it off the boards to Marleau. Bobby Ryan was quicker to the puck than Marleau. He skated in and around Braun and then beat Stalock to tie the game.

It was a bad spot in Stalock’s game, which did have some bright spots. Near the end of the second period, Brent Burns had a puck jump by him on the Senators blue line, allowing Ottawa defenseman Dave Dziurzynski and forward Alex Chiasson to go the other way, with only Paul Martin in position to defend. Martin stayed with Dziurzynski but could not prevent his pass below the faceoff circle. Alex Stalock read the play perfectly and came to the top of his crease to reach out and block the pass with his stick. He caught the puck up and tapped it in the direction of Brent Burns, who by now had come back to help out. It was a good indication of alertness and confidence from a goaltender who has not played a lot of games this season.

The game remained tied through until 8:19 of the third period. After a shot by Diurzinsky went off of Stalock’s mask, Pageau picked up the rebound and put a shot through Stalock. Stalock sensed that it was behind him, and turned to try to catch it, but it got by. Assists went to Dziurzynski and Cody Ceci.

Stalock made a quick trip to the bench after, where heStalock got a new mask. Evidently the shot to the head did some damage to his armor.

The Sens stretched their lead with just over seven minutes left. Dennis Wideman took a shot from the blue line, while Chris Neil blocked Stalock’s view. Two Sharks and another Senator were also in the goaltender’s line of sight, so he probably did not see the shot at all as it flew by into the top corner. Assists went to Curtis Lazar and Shane Prince.

Ottawa added to the lead when some offensive zone action from the Sharks left the ice open for another two on one against, this time by Karlsson and Hoffman, with Brenden Dillon trying to defend. Hoffman drew Stalock to the right, then sent a pass around Dillon to Karlsson. 4-1 Senators. Assists went to Hoffman and Bobby Ryan.

With 2:24 left, Brent Burns got one back for the Sharks. Hertl, Goodrow and Wingels got the play started and Burns skated in to finish it up with a shot from in front of the net.

The Sharks had a 20 second power play when Mark Borowiecki was called for boarding Joel Ward. It was not long enough to make a difference.

Final score: 4-2 Senators.

Goalie Craig Anderson made 31 saves on 33 shots for the Senators. Alex Stalock made 31 saves on 35 shots for the Sharks.

Brent Burns led the team by a significant margin with seven shots on goal. Joel Ward had four hits and four shots. The Sharks were outshot by the Senators 35-33.

Some of the Sharks lines looked different Friday. Dainius Zubrus skated with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski again, while Tomas Hertl skated with Barclay Goodrow and Tommy Wingels. Measuring by ice time, that second group made up Friday’s fourth line. Matt Nieto was promoted to the line with Marleau and Ward. As previously mentioned, Chris Tierney centered Melker Karlsson and Joonas Donskoi. Despite their stats in Friday’s game, that line looked pretty good. They drew penalties and showed promise as a unit.

The Sharks next play on Sunday in Chicago against the Blackhawks at 4:00 PT.

Sharks Start Road Trip With 3-2 Win in Detroit

By Mary Walsh

The San Jose Sharks defeated the Detroit Red Wings on Friday by a score of 3-2. It was an excellent start to a six game road trip. Sharks goals were scored by Matt Nieto, Joe Pavelski and Melker Karlsson. Five Sharks defensemen had points in the game, and goaltender Martin Jones stopped 26 of 28 shots for the win. For the Red Wings, Dylan Larkin made an excellent impression skating in his first NHL game. He set up the Tomas Tatar for Detroit’s first goal. The other Detroit goal came from Teemu Pulkkinen in the final minute of the game.

The Sharks gave up the first goal early in the game, something they have been doing a lot lately. Despite giving up the first goal yet again, Martin Jones had a good bounce back game. After the win, he said:

I’ve got to find a way to come up with a save early in the game. That’s a lot of games in a row that we’re coming from behind here so… It makes it tough on us. You know, the guy makes a good shot but I’ve got to find a way to come up with a save early.

The most noteworthy change to the Sharks lineup was that Patrick Marleau moved to center the second line, with Joel Ward and Nikolay Goldobin on the wings. Melker Karlsson started on the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski. Tomas Hertl centered the third line with Tommy Wingels and Joonas Donskoi. That left a fourth line centered by Chris Tierney with Matt Nieto and Mike Brown.

For the Red Wings, Pavel Datsyuk entered the lineup for the first time this season.

The Red Wings opened the scoring at 3:13 of the first period. A three on two was slightly aided when an official got in the way of Joe Thornton. Dylan Larkin carried the puck into the zone, then made a pass to Tomas Tatar on the wing. Tatar took the shot from above the circle and beat Jones on the far side, in the top corner. The goal went to Tatar with assists to Larkin and Niklas Kronwall.

Nikolay Goldobin earned the Sharks a power play by falling down and having it mistaken for a trip. It took Detroit almost a minute to clear the puck the first time. Later in the power play, Tommy Wingels was called for holding Darren Helm. That gave the teams 33 seconds of four-on-four play before the Red Wings power play. The Sharks penalty kill stopped the Red Wings from getting set up and gave them very little time to play in the offensive one.

Just as the power play ended, Sharks defenseman Matt Tennyson passed the puck out of the Sharks zone to Joe Thornton in the neutral zone. Thornton carried it in, pushed a weak shot at the net, then retrieved it behind the net, fighting off Drew Miller and Mike Green. As Thornton slid the puck back around in front of the net, Melker Karlsson arrived and popped it over Jimmy Howard’s pad to tie the game. Assists went to Thornton and Tennyson.

The Sharks survived another Detroit power play at 8:56, when Joel Ward was called for tripping. It was the first penalty of the season for Ward.

The Sharks took the lead late in the first, when Matt Nieto caught the puck on the left side of the net, carried it behind the net for a wrap around try, which did not go. He was ready for that, caught the rebound and put a shot up under the cross bar. The assists went to Brenden Dillon and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

Nikolay Goldobin was still on the second line to start the second period. The way he was pulled off the first line in earlier games, his continued presence on the second line suggests that his coach is gaining confidence in him. The first half of the second period was relatively uneventful. There were no penalties and no goals.

Just past the halfway mark, The Sharks looked like they were getting set up in the offensive zone. Paul Martin saw an early opening and took a shot from the blue line as Joe Pavelski was skating across in front of the net. Pavelski turned and skated backwards to get his stick in position, then deflected the shot perfectly past Howard. The assists went to Martin and Justin Braun. The goal put Pavelski one away from 500 career points.

With less than a minute left in the period, some rough stuff in front of the Red Wings net put Joe Thornton and Luke Glendening in the box with two minutes each for roughing. Actually, it sent them to the dressing room since there were only 56.7 seconds left.

At the end of the second, the shots were 22-11 Detroit, the score 3-1 San Jose.

The third period rolled along without penalties or additional scoring. The Sharks only got credit for three shots during the period, but they limited the Red Wings to just six in the period.

With their goaltender pulled and 1:52 left in the game, the Red Wings closed the gap. With all of the Sharks and a couple of Red Wings lined up in the slot, Tomas Tatar passed the puck to Jakub Kindl at the point. Kindle passed it along the blue line to Teemu Pulkkinen, who slapped it into the top corner. Assists went to Kindl and Tatar. After that, the Sharks pushed back a little harder and tried, unsuccessfully, for the empty net.

Final score: 3-2 Sharks.

None of the Sharks had more than two shots, and those with two were Brent Burns, Tommy Wingels and Matt Nieto. Justin Braun and Melker Karlsson led the team in hits with four each. Marc-Edouard Vlasic led the team in ice time with 26:54.

Pavel Datsyuk led the Red Wings in shots with four. Dylan Larkin and Justin Abdelkader led the Red Wings in hits with four apiece. Jimmy Howard made 11 saves on 14 shots.

The Sharks next play on Saturday at 4:00 PT in Buffalo against the Sabres.

Sharks Fall to Blackhawks 6-2

By Mary Walsh

SAN JOSE– The San Jose Sharks lost to the Chicago Blackhawks by a score of 6-2 on Saturday afternoon. Losing to one of the top teams in the league is not the worst thing a team can do but the Sharks cannot afford to give up any point if they have any hope of making the post season. The game winner was scored by Brandon Saad for Chicago, with Patrick Sharp chipping in with two, Bryan Bickell, Duncan Keith and Marian Hossa scoring for the balance. Corey Crawford made 33 saves on 35 Sharks shots. Sharks goals were scored by Melker Karlsson and Joe Thornton, with Antti Niemi making 24 saves on 29 Chicago shots.

The Sharks played well through the first 40 minutes, but could not take the lead over Chicago. After the game, Joe Thornton said:

We played a solid two period game and the third goal is a heartbreaker and you think you can get back into it and the fourth one just puts it out of reach. Yeah, we played good for 40-some odd minutes tonight just not good enough.

Every player and coach the media spoke to after the game was asked whether Thornton Gate had been a distraction leading up to this game. Logan Couture answered it as follows:

No, no, no. Our job is to come here and play hockey, that’s what we did. Guys showed up, played hockey, I thought we played pretty well. Go home, get ready to go to practice on Monday and play again.

No, no, no, is pretty much what everyone said about whether the Wilson-Thornton comments were a distraction. If the team really thinks outside fuss is not a distraction then they are kidding themselves. Even if they do know it is a distraction, they won’t share any more of what goes on behind closed doors than has already been said.

Sometimes a distraction is not a bad thing– see their start to Saturday’s game. Sometimes an irrelevant noise can improve performance. How all of these parts are working together now for the Sharks we are not likely to learn. The truth today is that the Sharks lost when they need to win.

Blackhawks took the first penalty, Bickell for holding the stick. It took the Sharks five seconds to put the puck in the net but since Joe Pavelski had just fallen in the Chicago crease, the goal was called back.

As soon as the penalty had expired, the Blackhawks went the other way. More specifically, Patrick Sharp went the other way. He got one shot off in a near breakaway, and Niemi stopped that one. But the rebound came back to Sharp as he crossed the red line and he put it over the sprawling Sharks goaltender. Assists went to Antoine Vermette and Brent Seabrook.

To that point, the Shark were outshooting the Blackhawks 10-3.

Just past the midway point of the first. Melker Karlsson was called for holding the stick. The Sharks’ penalty kill was quite effective, ejecting the Blackhawks from the zone at a rate of roughly once every 30 seconds without giving up any good chances.

The Sharks continued shooting and outshooting their opponent, but it took almost eleven minutes before a couple of now familiar things occurred: Matt Irwin shot the puck, and a falling Melker Karlsson put the rebound into the net. Joe Pavelski was by the net too, and it hit him before coming to Karlsson. The assists went to Joe Pavelski and Matt Irwin.

End of period, shots were 14-9 Sharks, with the score tied.

An interference call at 1:08 went against Antoine Vermette to give the Sharks an early second period power play. The power play did not start well, including an almost leisurely short-handed breakaway for Jonathan Toews. Niemi stopped that and the Sharks finally reacted to bring the puck back the other way. The Sharks got credit for two shots on the power play but spent most of the two minutes in their own zone.

The Blackhawks looked like a team that knows where their teammates were going to be, what to expect and anticipate from their linemates. This is the sort of familiarity that breeds success. It is a hard formula to compete with when you have a lot of players who are new to the team or even their linemates. For the Sharks to hang with them as well as they did was a good sign for things to come.

The second penalty of the period was called against Dillon, again for interference, at 7:35. It was enough to make a conspiracy theorist think the penalties had been chosen and counted in advance, with the same call going against each team in each period.

With their first shot of the power play the Blackhawks retook the lead. Duncan Keith took a shot from the top of the circle, beating Niemi in the top right corner, as the goaltender was moving left. Time of the goal: 8:45, with assists to Marion Hossa and Brandon Saad.

With 8:33 left in the second, Jonathan Toews was called for tripping. The Sharks were not going to score in the first few seconds, but Brent Seabrook helped them out with a perfect tip of a Joe Thornton shot from the blue line. Assist went to Logan Couture and Brent Burns.

The second period ended with shots at 26-13 Sharks and the score tied again. The shots for the period were 12-4 Sharks.

The tie only lasted the intermission plus 1:21, when Mirco Mueller tripped near his own blue line and let Brendan Saad get by him. Saad took the puck all the way in and shot it by Niemi. Assists went to Teuvo Teravainen and Corey Crawford.

The next Chicago goal came after a prolonged defensive struggle by the Sharks. Several passes and attempts to clear went awry, and when Matt Irwin failed to catch the puck along the boards behind the Sharks net, Marian Hossa Brad Richards took it and had time to pass it to Bryan Bickell right in front of the net. He did not miss. Assists to Richards and Michal Rozsival.

The Sharks barely escaped giving up a fifth goal near the seven minute mark. Niemi came out to meet the shot but wound up down and out of his crease with Joe Pavelski sprawled behind him. The puck ended up under Pavelski until reinforcements could close in.

With 8:35 left in the period, Joe Thornton went to the box for hooking. The Sharks’ penalty kill started well, allowing no shots in the first minute and spending plenty of time in the Chicago end. In all, Chicago only had a couple of good chances, but the Sharks followed up with a second penalty, a tripping call to Barclay Goodrow. The penalty killers made a valiant effort but with just 17 seconds left in the period, Patrick Sharp let one rip from the blue line and it sailed right in to make it 5-2. Assists went to Brent Seabrook and Antoine Vermette.

The empty net goal was scored by Marian Hossa.

Melker Karlsson led the Sharks in shots with six. Tommy Wingels outdid himself with eight hits. John Scott led in blocked shots with three. Brent Burns led the Sharks in ice time with 22:42.

Patrick Sharp led the Blackhawks in shots with six. Andrew Desjardins led the Blackhawks in hits with two. Brent Seabrook led Chicago in blocked shots with four.

The Sharks next play on Tuesday in Winnipeg against the Jets. That game will start at 5:00pm PT.

Sharks Shut Out Blackhawks 2-0

By Mary Walsh

SAN JOSE– In a 2-0 victory against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Sharks’ number 31 made 31 saves for the 31st shutout of his career, on January 31. In glaring obstruction of symmetry, it was not Antti Niemi’s 31st birthday, but he is 31. He was facing another goalie named Antti, Antti Raanta of the Chicago Blackhawks. Niemi faced nearly twice as many shots as Raanta did. Niemi was certainly the player of the game. Did Niemi feel like it was one of his best? “Not only having shutout, but the way I felt, patient and calm and relaxed, I felt really good,” Niemi said after the game.

Brent Burns praised Niemi’s performance Saturday and in general: “He’s real sturdy back there. We feel good when he’s there, we know he’s there to back us up if they get a good chance. He showed it tonight.”

All things considered, the rest of the team did pretty well despite missing Tommy Wingels and Justin Braun from their lineup. To defeat Chicago with those two out was a feat to be proud of regardless of how they got there.

It wasn’t always pretty but we committed to playing defense for the most part. You look at the shot clock, they lead the league in shots on goal, they shoot from everywhere. We knew we had to have a little bit of composure at times when they would get to roaming around in our end.

No matter who gets the most credit for the win, it was the third in a trio of impressive wins against formidable opponents. Continuing this season’s trend of playing very well against very tough teams, the Sharks don’t have much time to revel in this streak.

Monday, the Edmonton Oilers come to town to test the flip side of the Sharks’ pattern this season: how badly they have played against lower ranked teams. Sharks head coach Todd McLellan did not put it that way, but he did warn against celebrating this victory too much:

We play Edmonton [next] so we’ll see what happens. It’s great to have won games and we’ll enjoy tonight and I’m sure the guys’ll all watch the Superbowl but come Monday it’s right back to work. We’re not in a position to celebrate victories over first place teams. We’re in a position where we have to move on nightly and get better and prepare for the next opponent.

The Sharks took an early lead in a game that was, symbolically at least, very important. Two Chicago defenders tried to stop Melker Karlsson as he pounced on a rebound from a Matt Irwin shot, but he poked it by them and in. Assists went to Irwin and Joe Thornton.

The Blackhawks took the first penalty of the night, when Marion Hossa interfered with Brent Burns sufficiently to make Burns drop his stick. The Sharks did not score and actually had a bit of a scare at their own end when Jonathan Toews jumped on a turnover. Antti Niemi was stick-tapping to signal the end of the power play when he had to drop, mid-tap, to face the incoming Chicago captain.

Andrew Shaw and Joe Thornton received matching slashing penalties in the last minute of the period.

The period ended with the Sharks leading 1-0, and the teams tied on the shot clock with seven apiece.

The teams started the second period four on four, just as they ended the first.

Less than 30 seconds after the four on four expired, Matt Tennyson went to the box for high-sticking. The Blackhawks had the advantage by then in shots, taking the lead 13-7. The Sharks escaped unscathed from that penalty kill, actually showing more aggressiveness than they had four on four. The Blackhawks gave the power play back just after theirs expired, by taking a penalty for too many men on the ice. The Sharks power play held the zone for almost a minute before the vaunted Chicago penalty killers pushed them out. San Jose managed to get back on the attack but only for the final seconds of the penalty.

The Blackhawks added to their penalty lead at 12:58 of the period, when Michael Rozsival went to the box for hooking. Jonathan Toews had a complex short-handed chance, during which two Sharks defenders and Antti Niemi could not seem to get the puck away from him. Niemi, to his credit, stopped his shots repeatedly before the whistle blew. It isn’t clear why the whistle blew, and Toews objected heartily. The Blackhawks killed off the rest of the penalty without further incident.

The second period ended with the Sharks being outshot almost two to one.

The Blackhawks have been outscored badly in third periods lately. That bugaboo reared its head at the start of the third period Saturday, with the Sharks steadily closing the gap on the shot clock. In the last three minutes or so, the Blackhawks could hardly get across the red line without the Sharks stripping them of the puck. Finally, Chicago pulled their goalie. That got the Blackhawks across the red line but only long enough for the Sharks to take the puck away. Melker Karlsson saw Thornton and got the puck to him in the neutral zone. Thornton scored into the empty net to close the game out.

Of Melker Karlsson, Thornton said: “He just works hard every night. He’s a smart player, he made a great play to me, sprawling out. I love playing with him, we think the game the same way and it’s been fun.”

Matt Irwin led the Sharks in shots on goal with 4. John Scott led the team in hits with 6, Marc-Edouard Vlasic led the team in ice time with 24:01.

Jonathan Toews led the Blackhawks in shots with 5, Bryan Bickell led the team in hits with 4. Antti Raanta made 18 saves on 19 shots.

The Sharks next play on Monday night against the Edmonton Oilers.