SAP CENTER — Almost all you heard about heading into Saturday night’s Sharks game was that Czech rookie Tomas Hertl was playing his first NHL game against his childhood hero, Jaromir Jagr.
But it was tight defense between San Jose and the New Jersey Devils that took center stage as Team Teal kept the East Coast visitors from completing the “California Sweep” by notching a 2-1 win.
The Devils came close to tying things up towards the end of regulation, but as captain Joe Thornton explained, the Sharks were prepared for that:
“They’re known to be stronger later on in games, so we knew they weren’t going to go away. They played well in the third period there, made it a close game.”
Scott Hannan put the home team on the board 1-0 with a shot from the left point that rocketed past Martin Brodeur’s shoulder pad. Joe Thornton and Brent Burns registered assists on the opening goal.
Late in the first period, Marty Havlat fed the puck to Tyler Kennedy from the back of the net, and Kennedy lined it into the back of the net before Brodeur could move in front of it. Jason Demers tallied an assist as the Sharks took a 2-0 lead.
The 41-year-old Brodeur came up big in the second period, including a stellar glove save that robbed Logan Couture of making it a 3-0 game in the second 20 minutes of play.
When asked after the game how badly he had wanted to score on the veteran goalie, Couture stifled a smirk and shrugged:
“Should have stayed away from his glove, I guess. Watched a lot of hockey as a kid, seen him do that to a lot of players. Would have liked to score one on him, but he made a big save.”
While the puck stayed mainly in New Jersey territory for the majority of the second period, the Devils’ defense kept the Sharks from increasing their lead in spite of leading in shots on goal 21-10.
Not that New Jersey was having much luck on their end of the ice, as Antti Niemi and the defense in front of him kept the Devils off the scoreboard through two periods.
San Jose didn’t draw a penalty until 6:11 in the final period when Demers went to the box for hooking. With a single second left on the Devils first power play of the evening, Patrik Elias wristed the puck so far right of Niemi’s view that he didn’t see it go in, and the score gap narrowed to 2-1.
New Jersey threatened to tie the game up in the last few minutes of regulation but Niemi was present to block, bat away and literally lay on top of the puck to keep the Devils from scoring the equalizer.
Thornton was, as usual, complimentary of Niemi’s performance:
“He played great. Within the last minute to go, I thought they have scored two. But Nemo played great down stretch. That’s what he does for us.”
There was drama at the Devils end of the ice with about 1:30 left in regulation. Following a rush past the net by Brent Burns, Brodeur fell to the ice on his back and stopped moving.
Play was halted for several minutes until the goaltender eventually sat up. Later, the press learned from Burns that the puck had hit Brodeur in the back of the neck:
“The refs were asking me if I had hit him. … It’s kind of scary when you see his eyes were closed. I don’t really remember what happened on that play. I started getting worried when they didn’t show a replay.”
Brodeur was pulled with seconds left on the clock to allow for an extra Devil on the ice, but it wasn’t enough to keep the Sharks from skating away with the victory.
The Sharks continue their long homestand Wednesday when they host the LA Kings. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
The Sharks held the opponent to under 20 shots for the fourth time this season. … THe Sharks now have 11 players with game-winning goals this season. Only the Colorado Avalanche have more players (12) with game-winning goals. (Credit: Elias Sports Bureau). … Tyler Kennedy scored his third goal, and first game-winning goal, of the season… Joe Thornton’s assist on Scott Hannan’s goal gives him 1,142 career points, tying him for 50th place on the NHL all-time points list.