SAN JOSE -- When Sharks forward Brent Burns is on his game, it’s evident early.
That was true on Thursday night, when Burns was the best player on the ice in the Sharks’ important 3-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks at SAP Center, in which they reclaimed first place in the Pacific Division. Burns’ line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski generated nearly all of the team’s even strength scoring chances through two periods, and Burns himself was finally rewarded with a goal and an assist in the third, turning a 2-1 deficit and potentially painful loss into a rousing victory.
Burns isn’t one for introspection, and when it was suggested to him in a complimentary way that he was “all over the place” in the game, he quickly brushed it off.
“I’m usually all over the place, no?” he asked.
He eventually admitted that the circumstances of playing for first place perhaps added pep to his step.
“You realize how big the game was for both teams and obviously, playing here at home, we feel it’s important to win these games. Maybe a little bit extra, but I feel pretty good every night,” Burns said.
Joe Thornton, who set up the first goal, scored the equalizer and had the primary assist on the game-winner, was more direct in an assessment of his linemate. So was head coach Todd McLellan.
“He's just a beast out there. Nobody can handle his size and his speed,” Thornton said. “It just forces you to try to keep up with him because he's going so fast. It's great to watch."
McLellan said: “He's a wrecking ball. He’s a one man wrecking crew out there when he plays that way. His physicality showed up early. … He established himself as a man early, and continued to play that way, and it was nice to see him get rewarded and the team.”
Burns just missed on a couple attempts earlier in the game before his clutch goal. He rang a shot off of the crossbar with 4:40 to go in the first period, and was stopped on a partial breakaway in the second, when he charged towards the crease from the far side wall before getting denied by Frederik Anderson. He finished with a game-high seven shots, had another six misses, and added five hits, including his patented butt-check of Corey Perry in between Thornton’s tying goal and his own game-winner. Perry was slow to get up after getting run over midway through the third.
“He has his own unique style,” Todd McLellan said. “He backs that big truck in, and finishes checks that way.”
“Just trying to get body position,” Burns said of the Perry collision. “It’s hockey. … Just one of those things.”
Burns and his linemates didn’t get discouraged when they fell behind early in the third period on a Teemu Selanne goal at 1:42. Had Anaheim hung on, the Sharks’ chances of winning the division and thus avoiding Los Angeles in the first round would have taken a serious hit.
"We were playing good. We just happened to go down 2-1,” Thornton said. “We still felt confident. … There was a lot of game left, so we just stuck with it and came back."
The game-winner came on a relatively harmless looking centering pass by Thornton, that Burns somehow flicked in with just three minutes and 59 seconds to go in regulation.
"I just saw Burnsie's big body in front,” Thornton said. “So just, yeah, throw it in there, and lucky it hit off him and he put it in the back of the net."
Thanks to the effort from the big boys, the Sharks have earned the right to feel good about erasing a 13-point deficit in the Pacific Division to once again be on top.
The challenge with 11 games left is to stay there.
“Now that we’ve got grasp of it, we can’t look back,” Tommy Wingels said. “We’ve got to keep the pedal down and try to pull away. We worked this hard to get here, we can’t give it up now.”