SAN JOSE -– Rangers forward Chris Kreider helped generate two first-period goals, and that was all that the defensively stingy Rangers would need in a 3-1 win over the Sharks at SAP Center on Saturday night.
San Jose lost its second straight game despite the return of top center Joe Thornton, who had missed the last four games with a left shoulder injury.
The Rangers remained the hottest team in hockey, completing a California sweep that started with wins in Anaheim and Los Angeles earlier in the week. New York has won 13 of its last 14 games, and has allowed two or fewer goals in 11 of its last 13.
San Jose, meanwhile, is 3-5-1 in its last nine.
The Sharks came out with the early energy, but the Rangers withstood the push and scored the only two goals of the opening frame.
Kreider was involved in both. After Patrick Marleau missed Matt Nieto with a simple pass through the neutral zone that resulted in an icing call, the Rangers took an offensive zone draw. Joe Thornton pulled it back, but Kreider hustled to the loose puck and found Marty St. Louis in the slot to open the scoring at 10:40.
Less than five minutes later, Dan Girardi walked in towards the net and pushed one towards the crease. Kreider directed towards the net, and followed up his own rebound at 15:13.
Henrik Lundqvist made sure the lead held up, stopping 30 Sharks shots. His best saves came about five minutes into the second, when he kicked out a Brent Burns blast from the circle, then quickly shifted to his right to deny James Sheppard on the rebound.
He also got some help from the iron. Matt Nieto found the cross bar less than five minutes into the game when it was still scoreless, and later Joe Pavelski did the same with 4:19 to go in the second.
The Sharks may have caught a break with 15:36 to go in the third period. Mats Zuccarello managed to get a stick on a Rick Nash rebound after Nash powered to the slot, but Antti Niemi made a sprawling glove save. A long video review was inconclusive, despite Niemi’s glove being mostly in the net.
That decision allowed San Jose to cut into the Rangers’ lead. On the power play, Melker Karlsson gave the puck to Sheppard, and the rookie managed to poke the puck rebound over Lundqvist at 7:14.
Karlsson increased his goal-scoring streak to five games, tying the Sharks rookie record set by Jeff Friesen in the 1994-95 season.
Nash’s empty get goal with 59.1 seconds left capped the scoring. The veteran forward leads the Rangers with 26 goals.
The Rangers’ Dan Boyle made his return to San Jose for the first time since signing a two-year, $9 million deal with New York in the offseason. The crowd gave Boyle, who spent the previous six years with the Sharks and is their all-time leading scorer among defensemen, a rousing ovation in the first period following a video tribute.
The Sharks power play looked immediately better with Thornton back in the lineup, although his unit wasn’t able to score. San Jose finished 1-for-2, after going just 1-for-19 with the former captain out of the lineup.
New York entered the game with 10 power play goals over its last 23 chances, but was shut out on three tries. The Sharks had killed off just 12 of 20 power plays against in their previous seven games.
Karlsson’s goal was the first power play goal of his career.
Lundqvist, who made 33 saves in shutting out the Sharks on Oct. 19 at Madison Square Garden, improved to 20-8-3. He has allowed two or fewer goals in five of his seven career starts vs. San Jose, going 4-3-0.
Niemi made 28 saves in a losing effort, and has lost three of his last four starts in falling to 2-2-1 career vs. the Rangers.
Scott Hannan took Matt Irwin’s place on defense. Hannan had been scratched for the previous three games. John Scott also came out of the lineup after playing the previous three to make room for Thornton.
Earlier on Saturday, the Sharks announced that Mirco Mueller was placed on injured reserve with an upper body injury sustained at the World Junior Championships. That move allowed Thornton to be added to the active roster.
Tommy Wingels played in his 200th career NHL game.
The Sharks make a quick road trip to Arizona on Tuesday in what will be their first of three games in the desert. They lost in a shootout to the Coyotes, 4-3, in the only previous matchup on Nov. 22 at SAP Center.
Following that trip, San Jose opens a seven-game homestand, beginning with Toronto next Thursday.