Flames scorch sputtering Sharks

SAP CENTER — If there was a lesson to be learned from the Sharks’ 3-1 Monday night loss to the Flames, it’s that Calgary has San Jose’s number this season.

The Flames bested San Jose in three of their previous four contests, but Monday night’s beatdown only proved the Sharks would not be ready for them if the postseason started tomorrow.

FULL CIRCLE: Nabokov to retire as a Shark.

However, according to head coach Todd McLellan, he is not concerned about the Flames anymore this regular season.

“Won’t play them again this year, so everything at this point is review as far as the series goes. … They came in to our building three times and won. Each time it was very much a carbon copy, a low scoring game, (and) tonight we made enough mistakes that they could capitalize.”

San Jose came into Monday night struggling with identity issues. They’ve managed to keep themselves in playoff contention, even after dropped several head-scratching losses to cellar-dwelling teams, like Saturday night’s fiasco against the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Sharks received a boost after Tommy Wingels returned to the lineup for the first time since sustaining an injury in a home loss to the New Jersey Devils January. While the Sharks players were thankful for his return, it was the roar of the crowd that sounded most excited after his announcement into the starting lineup.

The action spiced up at the 16:00 mark when defender Mark Giordano got two minutes in the penalty box after tripping Joe Thornton on the Flames side of the ice, giving San Jose their first power play.

Photos by Thomas Mendoza/SFBay

Calgary played the man-down situation smart, and kept the puck in the Sharks’ zone as much as possible, nullifying the power play and giving themselves a bit of extra room to breathe.

The Flames managed to take hold of the puck after the failed conversion on the power play, but Antti Niemi’s quick glove put a stop to Calgary’s aggression. Niemi rejected a trio of offensive barrages in less than a minute, drawing the applause hat trick from a satisfied SAP Center crowd.

The Sharks finally managed some offense of their own, but had the puck quickly usurped by Calgary keeper Jonas Hiller, who quickly got the puck back to his team.

Not long after the save, Flames left winger Mason Raymond found himself with the puck streaking straight toward Niemi. Though Niemi played the role of Superman through much of the first period, he couldn’t stop the onslaught, barely missing a glove save at his right shoulder to give the Flames a 1-0 advantage with a little over five minutes remaining in the period.

The Sharks came out of the locker room with a vengeance, as they took control of the puck early and blazed down the ice, almost scoring the equalizing goal to open the middle frame.

But the Flames would not relent their momentum, and center Lance Bouma came out and scored another Calgary goal on a backhander to give his crew the 2-0 lead.

The hockey gods granted the Sharks a lifeline literally one second before the second intermission. The two teams faced off to the right of the goal, and the puck skidded to an awaiting Burns. With nothing but the game to lose, Burns ripped a 12-footer with all his might, putting the puck into the back of the net to cut the lead to 2-1 and sending the crowd into pandemonium.

McLellan said that he felt good about his team after the surprising goal:

“We played much better in the second period. We were much more assertive and had good control of the puck. … So to make it 2-1 at that point was a good sign.”

Three minutes into the final period, the Sharks found themselves with another chance to tie the game, but a close save by Hiller kept the Flames’ one-goal lead alive. Once again, Burns got a little too aggressive, and found himself back in the penalty box to give the Flames another power play.

While the Sharks were unable to capitalize on their previous two power plays, the Flames refused to follow suit. After a missed shot by center Sean Monahan, winger Johnny Gaudreau took the puck to the left of the goal, and flicked the puck out to center Jiri Hudler, who shot a dagger into San Jose’s goal to give the Flames a 3-1 lead.

The power play proved to be one of the major turning points of the game, but Burns told SFBay he was trying to do what he does best:

“I was just trying to play big. … That’s hockey.”

The Sharks appeared deflated after the goal, and struggled to find the aggression they were searching for from the beginning of the game. With 5:36 remaining in the third, the Sharks caught the Flames trying to transition their lineup, but poor puck handling caused the Sharks to cough up a potentially crucial possession, and take even more wind out of their patchy sails.

In a desperate attempt to claw back, the Sharks pulled Niemi for an extra attacker, but Calgary winger David Jones scored an on an easy shove from downtown San Jose to officially finish off the Sharks.

The Sharks fall to to 28-20-7, and look to bounce back Wednesday when they host the Washington Capitals.