SAN JOSE – Joe Thornton’s seemingly harmless shot from just inside the blue line gave the Sharks a lead they would not relinquish in a come-from-behind 5-3 win over Pittsburgh on Thursday night at SAP Center.
The Sharks erased deficits of 2-0 and 3-2 in beating the top team in the Eastern Conference. Thornton’s goal came at 14:21 after a neutral zone faceoff win by Joe Pavelski. He directed the puck towards backup goalie Jeff Zatkoff, who tried to glove the disc but didn’t get a piece of it.
Pittsburgh remains without a win in San Jose since 1997, a span of 11 games.
Pittsburgh led 2-1 at the start of a wild third period.
The Penguins had a great chance to extend that lead when Matt Nieto went off on a double minor for high-sticking at 2:26. Instead, the Sharks tied it.
Jason Demers’ takeaway preceded a pass ahead by the defenseman to an open Patrick Marleau, who had Evgeni Malkin in front of him. Marleau tiptoed past the Pittsburgh center and backhanded his 26th goal past Zatkoff at 5:18.
It didn’t last long. Still on a power play, Brandon Sutter fed Olli Maatta through the slot for the defenseman’s second goal of the game just 21 seconds after Marleau’s goal.
That didn’t get the Sharks down, though. They tied the game again at 6:52, when Pavelski spotted Brent Burns open in the slot. Burns quickly unleashed his second goal in as many games, after going 19 straight without one. He later added an empty-net goal with 2.6 seconds to go to cap the scoring.
The Sharks are 3-1-1 since the end of the Olympic break, and trail Anaheim by five points in the Pacific Division.
There was a good back-and-forth pace to the game early, and the Penguins drew first blood with a pair of goals before intermission.
Tanner Glass’ shot rebounded to the front of the net, where Maataa gobbled it up and slid it past Antti Niemi, who was flat on his back at 15:09.
A boneheaded roughing penalty by Burns gave the league’s top power play its first advantage of the night, and it capitalized. The Penguins outnumbered Scott Hannan in pursuit of a loose puck in the corner, and Malkin fed Chris Kunitz for a one-timer at 16:21. Kunitz is second in the NHL with 13 power play goals.
Things slowed down in the first half of the second period, but with about seven minutes to go, Raffi Torres drilled Marcel Goc and Rob Scuderi in succession. That led to Demers shaking up Kunitz with a check along the boards, and Burns, who was ornery all night, knocked Simon Despres’ helmet off of his head with a thundering blow.
San Jose finally broke through with 2:17 to go on a Justin Braun goal. After Tommy Wingels kept the play alive earlier by not letting Zatkoff freeze the puck, a floater by Braun deflected just inside the post.
That ended a streak of 18 straight games without a goal by a defenseman, a franchise record.
Sidney Crosby remains without a goal against the Sharks in six career games. He finished without a point and a game-worst minus-five rating.
The Penguins won the only other game between the two teams, 5-1 on Dec. 5 in Pittsburgh.
The Sharks’ top unit looked good, but still failed to score on the power play, taking an 0-for-4. Overall, San Jose is a dismal 2-for-42 in the last 14 games.
Pittsburgh finished 2-for-4, and has 11 power play goals in its last nine games.
Niemi started for the second time in five games after the Olympic break. He made 19 saves in the win.
Zatkoff, a rookie, was making his first career appearance against San Jose and made 42 saves on 46 shots.
Marty Havlat was a healthy scratch, as was Mike Brown. Adam Burish returned to the lineup after a two-game absence.
The Penguins welcomed newcomers Lee Stempniak and Marcel Goc after acquiring them both before Wednesday’s trade deadline.
The Sharks’ four-game homestand continues with Montreal on Saturday and Toronto on Tuesday, March 11.
San Jose played in the sixth of 12 straight games against Eastern Conference opponents.