SAN JOSE –- Three goals in regulation for the first time in 13 games. A goal from the second power play unit, just the second of the season. Heck, even Scott Gomez, who went more than a calendar year without a goal while with Montreal, scored for the second time in the last three.
But, still, a defeat. It came in overtime, 4-3 to St. Louis, after the Sharks held a 3-1 advantage after two periods.
[RELATED: Instant Replay: Blues 4, Sharks 3 (OT)]
This one’s on the goaltender, who, up until Saturday, had been the only rock in the Sharks’ wildly unstable season.
“[Antti Niemi] has been our best player all year and kept us around games all year,” Joe Thornton said. “He’s going to have a night like that. It’s a weird night, but he’s been a superstar all year.”
Todd McLellan said: “You could walk in that locker room, and everybody would tell you how important Nemo is to our team, and how much he’s meant. He’s been our most valuable player to this point, but tonight he struggled a little bit.”
Especially in the third. Niemi allowed a pair of bad goals to the Blues’ Vladimir Sobotka, who will never be confused with Brett Hull, in allowing St. Louis to tie the game at 3-3. At that point, McLellan decided something had to be done.
It was drastic. With backup Thomas Greiss unavailable with a sore neck, McLellan pointed his finger in the direction of Alex Stalock, who entered the game for his first NHL action in more than two years. Stalock only arrived in town from AHL Worcester on Friday.
Why make the change?
“I just thought [Niemi] was off his angle, two goals in a row,” McLellan said. “You could feel our team sag at that point, and we needed to do something. We had two options. We could pull the goalie or could call a timeout, and we pulled the goalie.”
Niemi, pulled for the first time this season, understood.
“Yeah, of course. We gave up two goals quick. So, yeah, for sure,” he said.
Stalock made a stellar glove save on Chris Porter on a two-on-one rush, after a turnover in the offensive zone by Ryane Clowe led to the Blues transitioning the other way. That helped the Sharks to get at least one point in the standings, but Stalock couldn’t find Patrik Berglund’s deflection of a Barret Jackman shot at 1:12 of overtime.
“Initially, it was a clear shot from the net and Berglund came over and got a piece of it, and tipped it down,” said Stalock, whose only previous game with the Sharks came on Feb. 1, 2011.
The Sharks lost for just the second time when leading after two periods (7-2-0).
Thornton didn’t like it.
“You’re up 3-1 going into the third, it’s time to just step on their throat, and game over,” said the captain. “Just a weird one there to get a second, a weird third one, and the OT we just didn’t contain sticks and they got a tip on it. It’s one of those games where you just let it slip, and that can’t happen.”
Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock saw a different Sharks team emerge from the locker room for the third period.
“They seemed to be on their heels and they seemed nervous for most of the third period,” Hitchcock said. “We just kept coming. These two teams are very close; there is very little difference between the two teams.”
The Sharks managed to get three goals in regulation for the first time since Feb. 5 in a 5-3 loss to Chicago. They haven’t scored three regulation goals in a win since the fifth game of the season, 4-1 on Jan. 27 against Vancouver.
Gomez deposited a second period goal and assisted on another as San Jose jumped out to a 3-1 lead. Matt Irwin’s blast on the power play at 16:31 of the middle frame gave the Sharks a two-goal cushion at the second intermission.
It was just the first goal from the second power play unit since Marty Havlat scored against Nashville on Feb. 2.
“We have a responsibility when we get out there to get the job done, and we hadn’t really been getting it done,” Irwin said. “It all starts with just getting pucks and keeping it simple, and getting them to the net.”
McLellan said: “We got a goal from our second power play unit, which was a positive. We got a goal from our third line, which was a positive. We scored three, which was a positive. That, for us, in the past month in a half, should be a formula for success.”
The game was a physical and entertaining one, a welcome change after San Jose had been involved in a number of particularly dull, low scoring affairs lately. The Sharks were on the giving end of most of the hits, finishing with a 30-22 advantage in that category. In the first period alone, Patrick Marleau, Tommy Wingels and Brad Stuart all laid some highlight reel body blows.
“We knew it was going to be like that,” Gomez said. “Two teams that, I think, that’s the kind of hockey everyone should get used to. They took the body, and we had guys taking the body all night.”
But, it didn’t translate into a win, as the Blues leapfrogged the Sharks in the standings. Both teams entered the game with 26 points.
“No loss is easy, and no loss is good. A 3-1 lead at home, playing a solid game, and then to give it back to them is a tough pill to swallow,” McLellan said.