SAN JOSE, Calif. (The Hockey Writers) The San Jose Sharks special teams have been anything but special this year, with their penalty kill ranking dead last in the league overall, and at home, so it’s reasonable to think that nobody in the HP Pavilion thought they would turn Thursday’s game around on a penalty kill. Certainly not after allowing the Colorado Avalanche to score on three consecutive power plays over the prior five periods.
But that’s exactly what happened, as the Sharks scored twice in 1:29 of the third period to erase a two-goal deficit at the second intermission, then skated off their third and final penalty of the night to seize the momentum for good en route to a stirring 5-4 comeback win.
“We said, ‘it’s time to get it done’ “, said Sharks coach Todd McLellan. “The confidence level on that penalty kill was probably a little lower than it should have been after the first period, but it got the job done.”
McLellan had again mixed up his lines, looking for something that would provide a spark. The second line contained Ryane Clowe, Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau, and they struck paydirt first.
Clowe scored off a hard rebound from a shot by Couture, which itself happened because Avs netminder Semyon Varlamov failed to clear a puck, instead putting it right on Couture’s stick at the top of the left circle. San Jose led 1-0 just 2:30 into the game.
Colorado quickly tied it off a faceoff on a power play. Erik Johnson received the faceoff and slapped a shot from the point that was tipped by Paul Stastny through Niemi’s legs. Both teams were on the board within the first six minutes of play; Colorado had taken twice as many shots as the Sharks, 6 to 3 by that point. The Sharks held the lead just over three minutes.
The Avs scored on another power play, late in the first period, at 19:49, when Ryan O’Reilly was there to flip home a long rebound of a shot from the high slot that made it through the entire Sharks’ defense.
The Sharks showed some life early in the second, when Michal Handzus poked home a shot off a pass from behind the net by Marty Havlat at 1:12 of the period, but this lead had a shorter shelf-life than their first one. Just 1:49 after San Jose regained the momentum lost to the late power play goal in the first period, Colorado regained the lead when Daniel Winnik’s long shot from the slot rebounded to Stastny, who potted his second goal of the night on a one-timer below Niemi’s right blocker.
Again, late in the second, the Sharks surrendered an easy goal, when Stastny dug a puck out from the end boards and put it on Winnik’s stick while he was in the paint, giving him an easy chance to jam the puck over Niemi’s left shoulder before the goalie could even react. The goal came at 18:21 of the period and seemed to effectively put the game away.
“You never want to give goals up at the end of the period,” McLellan said, “it takes a lot of momentum away, but the fact that we regrouped, and there wasn’t any motivational speech in the second intermission – we talked about what we did well when we played well.”
In this contest, the Sharks clearly missed, perhaps for the first time since their injuries, the physical presence of Douglas Murray and Jim Vandermeer, both on IR with upper body injuries. While the Sharks still have adequate defenders on the roster, there was clearly nobody keeping the riff-raff off the front porch most of the evening, as the Avalanche opened up an Occupy San Jose camp in the paint.
There were no stirring speeches during the second intermission. As captain Joe Thornton told it, it was more a sense of, “that’s enough.”
“We just, in between periods, said that teams have done this on us, why don’t we just turn it around for once. Shift after shift we came at them, and it paid off.”
The comeback began as the third period started, with an evident difference in jump between the teams. Previously, the Avalanche had been beating the Sharks to the loose pucks and out-working them in the corners, but that all swung around in the third period.
With 13:00 left to play, Brent Burns got on the score sheet for the Sharks, netting his fifth goal of the season when he corralled a rebound of his own shot while crashing the net and flipped it over Varlamov’s stick-side shoulder to make it a one-goal game. Again.
“You’re down, you’ve got to get it going, show some determination,” said Burns.
1:29 later, the Sharks tied the game when Joe Pavelski parked himself in the Colorado paint and had an easy put-back of a rebound after a shot by Jason Demers.
“It’s exciting,” said Pavelski. “The fans were booing us at one point there. We have some great fans, but deservedly so. That’s kind of the bottom for us, and we started doing some stuff right and they were cheering for us. We could feel the energy just keep climbing in the building.”
That’s when the game’s key moment occurred. Justin Braun took a boarding penalty at the 8:54 mark. The Avs had scored on three straight power plays to that point (over two games), but the Sharks finally showed some life on the penalty kill, keeping Colorado out of the attacking zone for almost half of the two-minute man-advantage and finally succeeding at skating it off.
The momentum swing was immediate. 35 seconds after the Sharks were back at full strength, Logan Couture fought his way through two defenders in the crease and was in position to tip a long shot by Patrick Marleau, deflecting it under Varlamov and giving San Jose a 5-4 lead with 8:31 to play.
Asked if the glass was half-full or half-empty after the spirited comeback, McLellan said, “Right now, you know what? It’s completely full, overflowing, that’s how important that win was to us. The fact that we could turn the tables on a team in the third period was important. The positive sign, to me, was the ability to recover – we didn’t sag, we didn’t feel sorry for ourselves. We talked about that between periods.”