Capitals conquer Sharks to snap 21-year streak

SAP CENTER — After the Sharks’ emotionally-charged victory over the Anaheim Ducks, skeptics might have thought San Jose couldn’t maintain a high energy level in their next home game.

Photos by Aris Bernales/SFBay

While far from their cleanest performance, San Jose still put on a show Saturday night against Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals.

But bad-luck deflections helped the visitors get on the board, and it cost the Sharks in the end as they dropped a 3-2 decision in a shootout.

James Sheppard, who had a gorgeous breakaway goal for the Sharks in the second period, said the outcome all came down to “puck luck”:

“They got a couple lucky goals … Sometimes that happens, but I think we had some chances. We’re good enough to get more and take advantage of them. So, just kind of unlucky, but we still have to push forward.”

Unlucky for sure, when considering that Saturday marked the Capitals first Northern California win in over two decades. Sheppard continued:

“They play hard. They’re stick strong, they’re big bodies. They get to pucks first, and crush and bang down there. So they’re a great team, and they never gave up.”

Washington broke their losing streak in San Jose — they hadn’t notched a win at the Tank since 1993 — by getting on the board first in the opening period.

Justin Braun tried to clear the puck, but it ricocheted off Matt Nieto’s right shin pad at just the wrong angle to take a nasty bounce into San Jose’s net. Caps winger Eric Fehr was credited with an unassisted goal as the visitors took a 1-0 lead.

Nieto got redemption with five seconds left in the opening period. He notched an assist when his shot in the paint was blocked and linemate Patrick Marleau wristed the puck high over goalie Braden Holtby’s right shoulder. Logan Couture also tallied an assist as the Sharks skated into the first intermission with a 1-1 tie.

San Jose had a few close calls to open up the third period while attempting to kill off of a Mike Brown penalty left over from the previous frame.

Then, after breaking up a pass by Jason Chimera with his skate, Sheppard got his tape on the puck in the Sharks defensive zone and carried the puck up the middle all alone to beat Holtby (34 saves). The unassisted goal put the Sharks back on top 2-1.

But the lead wouldn’t stick, as Washington center Chris Brown notched the first goal of his NHL career  as his shot on net deflected off of Dan Boyle and, for the second time Saturday night, Nieto.

The cube above center ice showed Nieto’s telling physical stance: shoulder’s sagging over, shaking his head in disbelief over contributing to both bad bounces. Post game, he sighed:

“Those are unfortunate. Those kind of things happen so fast, you can’t really react to them… Obviously, there are things we could have done better… They kept coming and coming, and we unfortunately lost.”

San Jose had an opportunity to break the tie in the final minutes of play when Marc-Edouard Vlasic drew a penalty on Ovechkin. But the Sharks power play unit couldn’t convert, sending the tilt into four-on-four overtime.

Antti Niemi (23 saves) and the Sharks defense came up big in OT to keep Washington from capitalizing, sending the bout into the shootout, which went the Caps’ way.

Head coach Todd McLellan summed up the overall game:

“I thought we played pretty solid defensively against a pretty good offensive team. They like to run and gun and go after you… It’s puck luck. Sometimes it doesn’t go your way.”

The Sharks hit the road for a back-to-back starting in Calgary on Monday. They return to San Jose on Thursday to host the Winnipeg Jets. Puck drop for that game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

Notes

This was the 100th Sharks shootout in franchise history… Patrick Marleau scored his 30th goal of the season, his 7th career 30+ goal season. He has scored 30+ goals in five straight full-length seasons... Logan Couture captured his 28th assist of the season. He now has seven in the month of March... Matt Nieto recorded his 13th assist on the Marleau goal... James Sheppard tallied his 3rd goal of the season. All of his goals this season have come against Eastern Conference opponents… Justin Braun recorded a game-high five blocked shots. Braun is currently 2nd on the team in blocked shots with 126.


Follow @SFBay and @ChelenaGoldman on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of the San Jose Sharks.