VANCOUVER – Do you really need all of your teeth when you’re trying to kill a penalty?
Not if you're Brad Stuart, apparently. The Sharks defenseman took a stick to the mouth in the middle of a third period penalty kill, but remained on the ice and even blocked a shot to keep a game with Vancouver tied at 2-2. Stuart anchored a unit that denied Vancouver on all five of its man advantage attempts, including one in overtime.
Combined with the play of Antti Niemi, it allowed San Jose to pick up two points via a shootout win, 3-2, on Tuesday night at Rogers Arena on a night that the Canucks outplayed the Sharks for most of the 65 minutes.
“It didn’t hurt that much. One of the teeth was fake already, and the other one just kind of chipped off the end,” Stuart said. “It didn’t hurt that bad, actually. I was expecting the pain to be coming, and it didn’t.”
While Stuart was fighting through his dental issues, Niemi made stellar pad saves on Alex Burrows and Alex Edler, and the game proceeded into overtime. There, Scott Gomez was questionably called for goaltender interference when Mason Raymond pushed him into Cory Schneider.
No matter, though. The Sharks survived one final Vancouver power play, and won in a shootout on goals from Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski while Niemi allowed only Chris Higgins to beat him on four attempts.
While the Sharks scoring struggles continued, the team relied on the two strongest parts of its game to pull through. The penalty kill improved to 87.5 percent, good for fourth in the NHL. Niemi made 36 saves, some spectacular, in keeping Vancouver at bay and won his 10th game. He remains third in the NHL in goals-against average (1.83).
“Penalty kill was very good against a power play that’s very potent,” McLellan said. “They can do a lot of damage. I thought the four-on-three in the overtime was very good. When your best penalty killer is your goaltender, you have a real good chance.”
Along with his 4:40 of shorthanded ice time, Stuart helped to generate an important goal in the second period. The Sharks led 1-0 when he fired the puck from the defensive zone to Adam Burish, who raced in and deposited his first goal (and the Sharks’ first shorthanded goal) past Schneider at 4:43.
“I knew he was there. So, yeah, I put it right on his tape like I was trying to do. I’m not going to tell you any different,” Stuart said, tongue-in-cheek.
Burish was glad to contribute on the scoreboard.
“It feels good. Any time you score a goal you feel like you’re doing a little more and helping a little more, contributing more,” he said.
At the same time…
“If I start going out there every night thinking I’ve got to score, I think I’m doing my linemates and my teammates a disservice. I’ve got to focus on other things – I’ve got to be solid defensively, kill penalties, bring energy. In doing that, if you can find ways to contribute by scoring goals, you do feel a little better after a game, and it’s fun.”
Burish wasn’t the only scoresheet surprise. Gomez found the back of the net in the first period at 7:42 on a shot through traffic that gave the Sharks the early lead. It was also his first.
Secondary scoring has been virtually non-existent for the Sharks. In fact, the bottom six forwards that started against the Canucks had combined for just one goal – total – before the game.
“Obviously, it was time,” Gomez said. “It was one of those things you’ve got to relieve pressure off the big guys. I know I can score, and I know I can set it up. You’ve got to shoot to score, and sometimes I get in trouble with that.”
“Our four guys that score a lot for our team weren’t even on the board tonight, and we still found a way to win, so that’s a real positive sign for our team,” McLellan said, referring to Couture, Pavelski, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, who were scoreless. “Can we be better? Absolutely. We can play the game faster. But, to come into this building and take the points, we’re happy with that.”
The unusual suspects allowed the big guns to provide the extra point in the tiebreaker. Couture had to score to keep it going, and he slipped a backhand through Schneider’s five-hole to make it 1-1. After Niemi stoned Alex Burrows, it came down to Pavelski.
He didn’t miss.
“It’s about as good a chance you can get, when Nemo makes a big save and you get a chance to win it, instead of just tying it,” Pavelski said.
The Sharks night didn’t end perfectly, but it had nothing to do with the game. The team was scheduled to fly to Calgary immediately after, but due to visibility issues, was grounded in Vancouver.
Instead, they convened for a late dinner at the hotel, will have breakfast in the morning, and take an 8:15 a.m. bus to the charter flight.
“There’s absolutely no excuse for us not showing up and playing well tomorrow night, as far as I’m concerned,” MeLellan said.
The travel snafu didn’t put a damper on the postgame mood, as the Sharks have recorded seven of a possible eight points in their last four games.
“We’re finding more pieces throughout nights,” Pavelski said. “It’s probably going to take more than two [goals] at the end of the day most nights, but two to three goals is going to give ourselves a really good chance to get a couple points.”
Thornton said: “I thought the third period we played solid, and ended up coming out with two points. So, good night.”
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McLellan tied Ron Wilson for most wins by a head coach in franchise history with 206.
Does it mean anything?
“The coaches in the past have done a tremendous job here in San Jose, but we’re all still waiting for that final game to be won," McLellan said. "The records of wins and that type of stuff doesn’t matter in this organization. It’s been a long time coming to try and get to that final game, if it’s Game 7 or whatever it might be, and try to come away with a win. That’s still our goal.”