The Washington Capitals were looking for a different outcome entering the rubber match from a 2-0 loss to the Sharks on Feb. 8. And much like the first game, the Capitals were coming off another offensive outburst, dispatching the Ducks in a wild 7-6 game.
Alexander Semin would record a hat trick and score his first goal since Nov. 28, and the Capitals would overcome some shoddy officiating for the win.
The Sharks were returning to the friendly confines of the Shark Tank, having won for the sixth time in eight games. Entering the game, the Sharks were second in the Pacific Division and just one point back from the first-place Coyotes.
Michal Neuvirth would get the nod in net despite coming off a poor relief showing against the Ducks. Neuvirth relieved Varlamov after the first period and would allow three goals on 12 shots.
The Capitals would still be without the services of star defenseman Mike Green, who also missed the first game between the two clubs. The Sharks would still be without the services of Antero Niittymaki, who is nursing a groin pull.
Much like the first game, the Sharks got off to a uneven start in the first period, as the Capitals carried play for stretches. Niemi would make some huge stops in the first half of play, stopping Semin on a golden chance just five minutes in.
Niemi would also stone Ovechkin and Backstrom on a sequence halfway through the first period, and he saw the puck very well all night.
The Sharks would lose Marc-Edouard Vlasic on his second shift of the game, crippling the team's defensive depth. Although the injury did not seem serious initially, this team may be in panic mode should Vlasic miss any significant time.
The Sharks would open the scoring at 18:49 with the Capitals on the power play on a Ben Eager tripping penalty. Caught deep in the Sharks zone, Patrick Marleau would again show why he’s one of the NHL’s most dangerous penalty killers.
After stripping Washington rookie John Carlson, he would streak down the ice before feeding Pavelski, who would blister a shot high to the glove side for the lead.
Alexander Ovechkin would answer just 20 seconds later on a long shot between the circles that would find its way past Niemi. With the score tied 1-1 the Sharks would head to the locker room down a defenseman and with Murray favoring his wrist.
The second period would open with the Sharks clearly looking to avoid the trend of struggling early in the period. Dan Boyle would make a horrible mistake playing the puck back to Niemi on a very odd looking play, with Niemi saving the day again vs. Ovechkin.
The Sharks would carry most of the play early despite going just 1-6 in the faceoff circle. The defense would begin to show cracks late, as expected with just five skaters on the back end. With the defense gassed, the Capitals would carry play for most of the back half of the second period.
Late in the second period, Demers would again attempt the lazy cross-ice pass high in the attacking zone. Semin would jump all over the puck and take the puck on a breakaway attempt, only to be foiled by a diving Wallin.
The third period would open with yet another odd gaffe with Demers passing the puck back to Niemi, only to turn the puck over.
The score would remain deadlocked in a 1-1 tie until 4:27 of the third period when Ryane Clowe would backhand the Wellwood rebound for the lead. Terrific effort by Couture to hold the puck down low before feeding Kyle Wellwood on the bad-angle shot.
The lead would stand until 10:27 of the third period when Scott Nichol would draw the interference penalty on John Erskine.
The Sharks would extend the lead to 3-1 on a shot from the point by Dan Boyle, although it was later awarded to Heatley.
Nicklas Backstrom would cut down the lead with just two minutes remaining in the game on a wrister through a mass of bodies in front of Niemi. The Sharks would not flinch from that point onward, and gave the Capitals no chance to pull Neuvirth.
The win put the Sharks back onto firmer ground in the packed Western Conference, and kept pace with Phoenix, who also won. Winning their fourth home game in a row is certainly a promising sign considering the Sharks are home for all but four contests in March.
The Sharks will need to continue improving that home record if they want to make the playoffs as a respectable seed. With the fall from third to ninth place in the West separated by a mere three points, now is no time to rest for San Jose.
What worked :
Dan Boyle :
Boy, did he ever work, Boyle would log 20 minutes and a whopping 24 shifts through just two periods. He looked gassed by the third period and just didn’t have the same jump in his step.
While Vlasic going down early in the first was a factor, Boyle’s heavy workload is going to wear him into the ground.
Boyle’s shot from the point also proved to be the game-winner despite the award of the goal to Heatley after review.
Power play :
The Sharks power play would get back on the board from the great point shot from Boyle in the third period. Having gone five games without scoring on the man advantage, this part of the Sharks game had struggled of late.
Traffic in front, Heatley near the crease, Pavelski getting things going are all positives for the Sharks. A good sign tonight after being blanked in Nashville in a game that included 26 seconds of overlapping penalties for a two-man advantage.
Antti Niemi :
Nemo would have no drop off from the road swing, where he was simply lights out. Coming off of a 30-save masterpiece against the Nashville Predators, Niemi shows no signs of slowing.
Posting a 1.56 goals against with a .945 save percentage and two shutouts, he’s carried the Sharks during the 5-2 road trip.
Niemi looked sharp all night and looked stronger in net as the night wore on. He would not be surprised on the laser-quick wrister sent from Semin late in the third.
The play was very similar to the Ovechkin open-net chance following the odd Zamboni board bounce.
Niemi played the puck smoothly and confidently both times and looks completely different than the Niemi from earlier in the year.
What didn’t work :
Jason Demers :
Demers continues to make some horrific mistakes under all kinds of circumstances. The increase in ice time only exaggerated his problems, instead of creating more scoring chances. Demers took on 28 minutes of ice time tonight, most of it bad with multiple turnovers.
His casual cross ice passes high in the attacking zone are simply maddening; it’s beyond excusable and will bite the Sharks one day.
Coming up Next :
The Avalanche come to San Jose Saturday, ripe for the picking as the Sharks continue to build momentum. Colorado has hit rock bottom after being strong contenders for the Northwest Division title earlier in the year.
The last time the Avs lost nine straight in regulation, they were called the Quebec Nordiques.
They are missing quite a few contributors in their lineup. Matt Duchene is out for the year and several other key contributors are healthy scratches.
Peter Budaj is projected to take the start while Anderson has failed to rebound from a tough stretch of poor play.
In other words, the Joe Sacco Watch is officially on.
Although the Avalanche are down, they are not out, and their young core can still put up a good fight regardless of their standing.
The Sharks cannot take this team lightly, and must put them away to gain ground on the Coyotes.