San Jose Sharks Shoot Down Stars, 6-3: Top 5 Things We Learned
The Sharks came into the key Pacific Division matchup Tuesday night at the American Airlines Center after absorbing a big loss in Chicago and needing to rebound in a big way. Ahead in the Pacific by just three points, the Sharks were also just six points ahead of Nashville at ninth place.
The Dallas Stars, much like the Sharks, are 6-2-2 in their last 10 games and are also coming off a huge loss against the Kings Sunday. They have also lost two straight after going on a big streak. Sound familiar for Sharks fans yet?
Early on, the game seemed to turn against the Sharks, but they rebounded in a huge way against a division opponent and never let up.
Captain Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley had a pair of goals and Joe Pavelski came up huge in response for the Sharks on the road.
With a huge three-game home stand now ahead for the Sharks, they must take care of business against the Wild and Blues before facing the Flames.
Here are the top five keys to the victory and the playoff march.
Head Coach Todd McLellan has been criticized at times, but he made a huge decision going right back to Niemi after yanking him in Chicago. Antero Niittymaki relieved Niemi at 7:25 of the second period after Niemi gave up three goals on just five shots shorthanded.
He gave Niemi the full confidence in the world and Antti responded, making some huge saves shorthanded late in the game.
With Dallas right behind the Sharks in the Pacific Division, Niemi had to play in this big game and Todd McLellan made the right choice.
The rest of the team came ready to play, and Douglas Murray delivered a huge open-ice hit on Loui Eriksson who promptly left the ice.
Sharks fan “favorite” Steve Ott would foolishly decide to engage Murray just 20 seconds after and received three penalties for his mistake.
Ott was in everyone’s face early and often, especially Marleau’s, but he paid the price when trying to take on Murray.
Nemo Does It Again
Niemi is no stranger to adversity in his short career, but he has rebounded after every bad start when it’s counted. And I’m not just talking about this year, after his .859 save percentage in the first month of the season and his elite play since then.
Last night against Chicago was one of the few times in the new year he’s looked mortal, and even then three straight penalties is tough for any goalie. Niemi came up huge again Tuesday night after some tough breaks on the first two goals, and rebounded from the night before.
He’s looking a lot like he did a year ago on his championship run following some poor showings against the Predators and Canucks early on.
After getting yanked early in the Vancouver series, Niemi shut the door, posting games of .923, .937 and a series-ending .967.
Niemi was again huge, making save after save shorthanded late in the second and third periods and did it against a variety of shots.
After going up 4-2, the Sharks had difficulty locking the game down and sometimes just getting out of their own zone.
Niemi was the difference in the two late penalties in the third period and made the huge saves on some bad Sharks turnovers.
Pavelski had a huge game Tuesday night, and did it playing with just about anyone alongside him. His vision and hustle is getting the Sharks huge chances at even strength in a huge game on the road.
Little Joe had four assists, including the feed to the Ryane Clowe tiebreaker early in the third period, and was the catalyst behind the comeback.
The clutch play stripping Jeff Woywitka and delivering the perfect pass to Clowe who put the puck past Lehtonen at 1:51.
Pavelski was just all over the place last night and came close several times, reminiscent of last year’s playoff play.
He also assisted on the insurance goal from Torrey Mitchel just two minutes later on one of the prettiest plays of the season.
The Clowe-Pavelski-Mitchell line was dominant at times last night and their hustle on the forecheck paid off in a huge way for the Sharks.
The Big Line
While the Big Three haven’t played as a line together as much as we’ve seen before, they are responded in a big way Tuesday night. The continued defensive focus is helping fuel the offense, and the Sharks got back to what made them successful.
Patrick Marleau now has nine points in his last seven games, and both Dany Heatley and Joe Thornton had two goals apiece.
Jumbo was a little pissed last night, and it does good things for the big man’s game; an early ice shower in Lehtonen’s face was an early sign.
He had a strong first period overall and stole the puck on the backcheck several times, including twice against newly acquired defenceman Alex Goligoski.
Heatley's interference penalty late in the third with the Sharks clinging to a one-goal lead was just not smart. At least he could have landed the elbow to Ott's face and made it count.
Heatley needed this game in a big way; hopefully it helps him rediscover his scoring touch, because he’s been ice-cold since January.
The Sharks played their second game in as many nights and rallied for the win against a exceptional team with the lead.
Dallas is tops in the NHL with a 28-3-2 record with the lead before the game against the Sharks, and had everything to play for to stop their slide.
This kind of forging in the fire playoff hockey could mean the difference in the postseason, where these kinds of wins are paramount.
Sharks got back to the way they played during their rise to the top of the Pacific early in the year, and did it after Wallin leaving in the second period.
With no Huskins and Jason Demers a scratch, the team had to dig in and get the points, and they did it in a big way.
The Sharks are now 10-2-2 in their last 14 games and head home for a two very winnable games against the Wild and Blues.
With the win, the Sharks move within two points of the second seed Detroit Red Wings but have played two more games than the Wings have.
With the Los Angeles Kings wrapping up their four-game road trip going undefeated, they are just three points behind the Sharks.
Will Antero Niittymaki get a start in the first game at home? Or will Niemi continue to play?
Bring on the Wild