Sharks surge past Ducks into first place

SAP CENTER — From the drop of the puck Thursday night, the San Jose Sharks matchup against the Anaheim Ducks was more physical and tightly-checked than Tuesday’s loss to the Florida Panthers.

Photos by Aris Bernales/SFBay

You know, not that first place in the Pacific Division had anything to do with it or anything.

The closely-fought battle royale had the feel of a playoff game right up to the end, with both teams fighting to break their tie of 97 points to take sole lead in the division.

But after a lot of back and forth, the Sharks emerged victorious with the 3-2 win to take over first place in the Pacific.

Leave it up to head coach Todd McLellan to stay cool as a cucumber and dismiss the idea that the win was any more important than any other Sharks win down the stretch:

“In my opinion, it wasn’t a must-win for either team. It was a nice win for our team tonight. … There’s a lot of hockey left. And when you start putting that pressure on individuals or groups that you have to win (games) it’s a difficult thing to maintain.”

Tommy Wingels had a slightly different take on the importance of the victory:

“It feels good. Before this morning, (catching Anaheim) was something we’ve had our eye on for a while. Now that we’ve got grasp of it we can’t look back. We’ve got to keep the pedal down and try to pull away.”

The Sharks power play —  nothing short of abysmal lately — sprang to life on their first attempt with a little over seven minutes left in the opening period.

Joe Thornton fed the puck to Patrick Marleau who wristed the puck past goaltender Frederik Andersen (24 saves). Logan Couture also tallied an assist as the Sharks took a 1-0 lead.

Andersen woke up between the pipes in the second frame, robbing both Brent Burns and Logan Couture of would-have-been gorgeous goals. Meanwhile, Antti Niemi (16 saves) smothered the few attempts that Anaheim shot his way.

After getting through more than half the game without a penalty, Couture and Marc-Edouard Vlasic racked up consecutive infractions, overlapping by six seconds in the sin bin.

Just as Couture was exiting the box, Anaheim center Mathieu Perreault lined a rebound shot past Niemi to knot up the score 1-1.

Anaheim struck again not two minutes into the third period when Teemu Selanne beat Niemi five-hole to give the Ducks their first lead of the evening at 2-1.

The Sharks top line wouldn’t let the visitors keep the lead. Thornton got a hold of a Burns rebound and fired it in behind Andersen, with Joe Pavelski pitching in as a helper.

The crowd’s cheering reached inaudible heights as the game tied back up 2-2.

Thornton put his tape on the puck again with just a little over four minutes left in regulation. The shot redirected off Burns’ skate, missing Andersen completely as San Jose retook the lead for good 3-2.

Burns admitted afterwards that the redirection was not intentional:

“I wasn’t trying to (laughs) but sometimes it happens. It’s just one of those plays.”

However, the game-winning goal summed up the extra physical product that No. 88 had put out on the ice that night. McLellan summed up Burns’ play quite well:

“He is a wrecking ball. He is a one man wrecking crew out there … His physicality showed up early. I thought he finished some checks that weren’t even part of the offensive attack, or anything like that … It’s nice to see him get rewarded, and the team.”

The team will get a chance to improve on their spot in the division on Saturday, March 22 when they close out this homestand hosting the Washington Capitals. Puck drop for that game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

Notes

With the win, the Sharks now sit atop the Pacific Division. The last time Sharks were in sole possession of 1st place was Dec. 5th, 2013 … The Sharks have held opponents to under 20 shots six times this season … Patrick Marleau scored his 29th goal of the season, moving into 66th place on the NHL’s all-time goals list. Marleau surpassed former Shark, Vincent Damphousse. Since the 2009-10 season he ranks 6th in goals scored with 113 … Joe Thornton took sole possession of 46th place on the NHL’s all-time points list with a goal and two assists. He now has 1,187 points… Brent Burns recorded his 19th assist of the season on Joe Thornton’s goal. He has three assists in his last four games … Joe Pavelski had an assist on the Thornton goal. He now has 33 assist on the season, one shy of his career-high … Brent Burns scored his 20th goal of the season, the first time he has reached that milestone in his career.


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