Midway through overtime, Joe Thornton slid the puck all the way back from the offensive zone to goaltender Aaron Dell.
That subtle play kept the possession for the Sharks and, at 1:52 of the extra session, Kevin Lebanc deposited the game-winning goal as the Sharks defeated the Canucks, 5-4, at SAP Center on Thursday.
“It’s a possession game in 3-on-3, so it was great that he put it back and took the pressure off.”
The goal capped off a four-point night for Labanc — who also had three assists — tallying his first goal in 24 games. And it was fitting that Thornton made the play that started it all, with the 38-year-old center recording two goals and an assist in the win.
Thornton’s three points gave him 1,417 points in his career, propelling him past Doug Gilmour into 18th place on the NHL’s all-time points list.
Head coach Pete DeBoer admitted it wasn’t a pretty win, but credited special teams for the victory. The Sharks went 3-for-5 on the power play and killed off all four of the Canucks’ man advantages. He said:
“We don’t like getting into shootouts like that and giving up four goals but, it’s that time of year. There’s no style points. We got two points in an important game, and that’s what matters.”
The Sharks had a 4-3 lead heading into the third period, Vancouver (15-16-5) had tied the game a little more than two minutes into the third frame on a goal by Daniel Sedin, whose shot was partially stopped by Sharks goaltender Aaron Dell, but had enough to slide past the goal line.
But it was the Sharks (18-11-4), who had lost to the Canucks last week in overtime, prevailing in the extra session. After prime scoring chances for both teams, Labanc took a feed from Tomas Hertl at point blank range, and fired it past Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom for the win.
The goal might serve as a confidence-booster for the 22-year-old, who started off the year hot but went on a long scoring drought, even spending time in the minors. He said:
“You’ve just got to keep creating chances, make the most of it. Get pucks to the net. Make the right play. Chances will start coming and they’ll end up going in the net.”
Labanc is the first Sharks player to record four points in a game since Hertl’s four-goal game in 2013. His overtime goal finished off a wild night of back-and-forth action.
It didn’t take long for the Canucks to strike first. Just two minutes into the game, Jake Virtanen darted past two Sharks defenders beneath the goal line, but not before sliding the puck through the crease, setting up Brendan Gaunce’s first goal of the season.
The Sharks needed a few minutes to find their legs while the Vancouver threatened to double its early lead, but San Jose soon found an answer. On power play midway through the period when Joe Thornton’s wrist shot from the left side beat Markstrom up high to tie the game. The goal pulled Thornton even with Gilmour.
Thornton would soon pass Gilmour in the second period. After Timo Meier gave the Sharks a 2-1 lead, finishing off a nice tic-tac-toe passing play from Dylan DeMelo and Kevin Labanc, Thornton cranked a slap shot from an identical position past the glove of Markstrom to double the advantage.
The veteran is known for his passing, but on Thursday, he shot the puck with aggressiveness. Labanc said of Thornton’s shot:
“It’s hidden in his pocket. If he’s on the half wall on the power play, he’s going to shoot it and it’s going to go in.”
The middle period featured plenty of scoring — 5 goals in all. The Canucks claimed the next two, though, to even the score. Virtanen brought Vancouver within one on a terrific individual effort, going coast-to-coast for the score. And then Brock Boeser tied the game, sneaking a rebound past the San Jose goaltender Dell, a goal that stood after a review for goaltender interference.
But the Sharks took a 4-3 lead into the locker room before the third period, taking advantage of a 5-on-3 power play. Hertl shot the puck in a gaping net, finishing off another tic-tac-toe passing play, this time from Thornton and Pavelski.
Pavelski said the power play, which scored three goals for the first time this season, was high on confidence:
“We went over the boards knowing we were going to score, pretty much. That was the feeling we had.”
Though the Sharks thrived on special teams, they struggled in 5-on-5 action, as all four of the Canucks’ goals came at even strength. DeBoer said that some players were being dominated 5-on-5, and shortened his bench to just three lines in the third period:
“I felt we had to to win the game. You don’t like to do that. I like to play four lines all game long. It’s 82 game schedule. It’s too long a season to wear out eight or nine guys.”
San Jose may not have played its best game. But two points are two points, and it vaults the Sharks back into the playoff picture after entering the night outside of it.
Defenseman Brenden Dillon said these are the wins that may pay dividends later on in the season:
“You’ve just got to find a way to get points.. You look back in Games 78 or 79, you’re like, ‘Oh geez, that game on the 21st. you get that extra point and you’d be in a better spot.’ Every point is so crucial.”
The Sharks remain at home and will take on the rival Los Angeles Kings (22-10-4) on Saturday at SAP Center.
Couture remained out of the lineup since after a concussion against the Canucks last week. … Jannik Hansen skated on the top line alongside Thornton and Pavelski, while Joel Ward was scratched. … Despite taking three minor penalties in the first, the Sharks, who have the NHL’s second-best penalty kill, denied the Canucks on all three of their early power plays. … Dell remains perfect against Vancouver. He is now 3-0-0 in his career when facing the Canucks and has won his last five starts.