SAN JOSE – The Sharks scored five times against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Thursday night’s thrilling Game of the Year candidate, a 5-3 triumph over the best team in the Eastern Conference. In all, nine players registered at least one point.
Raffi Torres wasn’t one of them. The winger, playing in his fourth game since returning from knee surgery, played a little more than 13 minutes in a third line role and wasn’t even on the ice for any of San Jose’s goals.
Still, he helped turn the tide when the Sharks trailed 2-0 midway through regulation. He drilled Penguins newcomer Marcel Goc with 7:29 to go in the middle frame, and seven seconds later, it was Rob Scuderi who acted as a pin getting toppled over by the six-foot, 215-pound human bowling ball.
That got the hit parade going. Soon after, Jason Demers rocked Chris Kunitz along the wall, forcing the Canadian Olympian to the bench for the rest of the stanza. Brent Burns plowed into Simon Despres with about three-and-a-half minutes left, knocking the helmet clean off of the defenseman's head.
A goal, of course, also helped. That came when Andrew Desjardins’ floater deflected off of the defensemen with 2:17 left to play before the intermission, and suddenly the Sharks were back in the game, trailing 2-1 after 40 minutes.
“We got physical, and that just totally turned the game,” said Joe Thornton, whose harmless looking shot with 5:39 left in the third period was the game-decider. “Everybody got into it after the big hits. Throwing the body around just changed everything.”
Torres said: “The better I start feeling the more energy I’m going to get, and the more energy I’m going to start giving. I got a second wind there on that shift, got a couple bangs in, and I think the key is you follow that up with another good shift. That’s what you need, that momentum change to get things going.”
The third period alone was worth the price of admission. The Sharks scored a dazzling shorthanded goal courtesy of Patrick Marleau to tie it at 2-2, and although Pittsburgh took the lead again with the remaining power play time, the Sharks still had the better legs. They outshot Pittsburgh 16-4 in the third period, and 47-22 for the game.
Burns got free in the slot and hammered in a pass from Joe Pavelski at 6:52 to make it 3-3, before Thornton’s late goal was the difference. Burns’ empty-netter made it final.
Fun to watch? Definitely. But, also fun to play, according to Demers.
“It was awesome. … Playoff hockey. It was hard, it was dirty, it was everything,” said the defenseman.
What about for the coach?
"Well, when you win it's fun,” Todd McLellan said. “But, it was an exciting game. It had a real playoff feel.”
Burns’ game stood out. Even though he took an unnecessary penalty in the first period leading to a Pittsburgh goal, he skated with an ornery demeanor both between and after the whistles. He was credited with a game-high five hits to go along with his two goals.
“If you try to bully yourself around…we have a team that can do that,” Burns said. “Obviously, you see the energy on the bench. It’s a fun game to be a part of.”
McLellan said: “Raffi was effective. I thought Brent Burns, that's as physical as I've seen him play and maybe one of his best games that I've seen him play. One goes with the other. He scored two goals tonight because he was a force, almost a bully out there on the ice.”
On the scoresheet, the individual stat that jumps out wasn’t on the Sharks’ side of things. Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby finished without a point, and was a brutal minus-five.
"It's not an easy thing. … They're a very gifted team. It was our big boys, it was their turn, because their big boys got a hold of us in Pittsburgh and really gave it to us,” McLellan said, referencing the Penguins’ 5-1 win on Dec. 5. “So, tonight was a payback."
It was also one of the most rewarding wins of the season, at a time when the Sharks would like to be steadily improving as they head toward another inevitable playoff berth.
“You want to bottle it up and keep playing that way,” Marleau said. “It’s a hard way to play, but if we get rest and take care of ourselves, we can do it. We have to keep replicating it.”