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Sharks blitz Lightning, show they can beat the best

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Two weeks ago, the Sharks lost to the Winnipeg Jets at home despite outplaying an elite opponent in several areas.

On Saturday, in defeating the NHL-leading Lightning (32-8-2) 5-2 at SAP Center, the Sharks (23-13-7) claimed their fourth win in five games and showed that they not only can play with the best, but are also capable of beating the best.

Tampa Bay is the best — by a long shot.

This story has been updated with post-game quotes and additional material from the Sharks locker room at SAP Center.

Brent Burns, who had three assists for the second consecutive game, said:

“It’s a big win. We know that’s a great team over there. It’s a good measuring stick for us.”

The Lightning entered the game 10 points ahead of the rest of the league and on a 15-0-1 streak in their last 16 games. They had not lost in regulation since Nov. 27 — Golden State Warriors-level dominance over the other 30 teams.

But the Sharks themselves improved to 11-3-2 in their last 16 games. To top Tampa Bay, which boasts the league’s top offense by a wide margin, San Jose matched the Lightning’s style of play: fast-paced, up-and-down. For a team that often settles for slowly building up scoring opportunities in the offensive zone, the Sharks flashed a welcome sign that they can adjust to the opponent.

Said Evander Kane, who led the scoring with two goals:

“They got a real good [cushion] on the rest of the league in terms of points. We knew they are very high offensive, high-powered team. We can score with anybody.”

They have the players to do so, too. The Sharks possess as much talent as any team in the league. And the goal scorers — Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Kane and Lukas Radil — all have quick hands and fast shots who can change the game in an instant.

They did on Saturday.

It was Kane’s wicked wrister early in the second period — a rocket from high on the right slot after a cross-ice pass from Burns — that put the Sharks ahead 3-1.

And it was another Kane wrist shot, speeding down the left wing early in the third period for his 200th career goal, that gave the Sharks a pivotal two-goal cushion after the Lightning had pulled back within a goal and were threatening to even the score.

To add the exclamation point, Radil redirected a shot by Brent Burns at 12:20 of the third to give the Sharks a 5-2 lead.

For head coach Pete DeBoer, the win was refreshing because the Sharks not only executed the gameplan, but also earned the result they deserved. His team recognized the situation and dialed into their game and attention to detail:

“It’s nice when you talk about those things as a coach and you get rewarded for it. There’s a lot of nights you talk about it, and even when it’s executed, you don’t always get the win. For us to back that up and get a win over a team like that is great and goes a long way.”

Perhaps just as impressive, the Sharks stymied a high-scoring Lightning team with three injured defensemen and two stalwarts — Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun — out. They held the Lightning’s forwards off the score sheet, as both Tampa Bay goals came from defensemen.

The key? Riding Burns and Erik Karlsson, two of the best defenseman in hockey. Both played around 30 minutes to lead all players. Pavelski said:

“Those guys have led the way for us most of the year. Tonight, they settled the game down right from the start, made some good plays. It’s a luxury to have.”

They did more than survive, limiting Tampa Bay’s speed through the neutral zone and slowing down a potent attack. Pavelski said:

“We thought that was going to be a big factor in this game, if we could get through [the neutral zone], not turn over a lot of pucks and slow them on the other side.”

The game began at a rapid pace, and the Sharks blitzed the Lightning in the first period to the tune of two goals 34 seconds apart to grab a 2-0 lead.

The goals, appropriately, were both bang-bang plays. The first came off the rush from Couture, who deposited a cross-ice feed by Timo Meier to open the scoring. Then, on the ensuing shift, off a Tampa Bay turnover, Burns found Pavelski in front, and Pavelski deftly redirected the puck up high past goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.

The Lightning, who outshot the Sharks 8-4 in the first, cut into the deficit before intermission on a goal by Victor Hedman. DeBoer said:

“We looked a little tentative, probably realized who we were playing tonight.”

Over the final two periods, the Sharks held a 29-12 shot advantage — and a 3-1 goal advantage. DeBoer said:

“In the second and third, we started to play with confidence and just played our game. Our third was the best third we’ve played in a long time.”

Up Next

Starting a stretch where they play five of six games at home, the Sharks will take on the Los Angeles Kings, the last-place team in the West, on Monday at SAP Center.

Notes

Jacob Middleton, called up from the San Jose Barracuda on Friday, made his NHL debut at defense. … Erik Karlsson, with two assists, has an assist in 12 straight appearances.  … Couture has 25 points in his last 23 games. … The Sharks entered Saturday with a three-game win streak against Eastern Conference opponents.

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