SAN JOSE –- Patrick Marleau is the only current Sharks player that has been with the team since it last missed the playoffs in 2003.
A pair of misplays by the all-time leading scorer in the most important game of the season on Saturday against Vancouver made it all the more likely he’ll be around to see them miss again.
Marleau’s first period turnover, and his inability to convert on a wide-open net in the second period were two of the key moments in a 3-2 San Jose loss in which the Sharks blew an early two-goal lead.
Not that it was all Marleau’s fault, of course. Brent Burns factored into all three Vancouver goals, Eddie Lack outplayed Antti Niemi in net, and it was a rough night for the game officials, too.
But, the game turned on Vancouver’s first goal, coming in the final minute of the first period and San Jose ahead, 2-0. Daniel Sedin picked off Marleau’s attempt to Logan Couture in the offensive zone, and the Canucks charged ahead.
Radim Vrbata outmaneuvered Burns at the blue line, and Burns eventually lost track of the Canucks’ forward who raced in and beat Niemi at 19:21.
“There was a turnover, and Nemo –- that’s probably one he’d like to have back,” said McLellan, who thought the Sharks had control of the game up to that point.
Marleau, who was placed on the third line to start the second period, said: “I thought I saw [Couture] cutting to the middle, but hindsight being 20-20, I should have just got it in deep and changed.”
Marleau had a chance to make up for his error midway through the second period, but somehow pushed the puck wide while staring at an open net on a two-on-one with Scott Hannan. That would have increased the Sharks’ lead to 3-1.
“I went to stop it and it just hit my stick and took off the other way,” Marleau said. “I’d like to have that one back.”
On Vancouver’s equalizer later in the second, Burns couldn’t keep a bouncing puck in at the blue line, leading to a partial breakaway by Bo Horvat, that the Canucks youngster converted after Niemi flopped at 16:24.
Vrbata got the game-winner when Burns high-sticked Jannik Hansen, putting Vancouver on the power play. Again, Niemi left the top of the net wide open for the goal at 5:21 of the third period, although Vrbata had all kinds of time to pick his spot.
The Sharks couldn’t be faulted for their effort, pouring 40 shots on goal and winning 59 percent of the faceoffs. They may have deserved a better fate, too, as Tommy Wingels appeared to give them a 3-2 lead early in the third period when he poked in a loose puck that Ben Smith took hard to the net.
Instead, an early whistle negated that would-be go-ahead goal.
“I thought it was loose, and [that’s] why I whacked it in,” Wingels said. “The whistle is blown, and unfortunately that’s not something you can review.”
McLellan, who didn’t seem pleased with an earlier non-call on Henrik Sedin after the Vancouver captain appeared to illegally play the puck with his hand off of a face-off, referred the game’s officiating as “interesting.”
The Sharks (32-26-8, 72 points) remain four points behind Calgary for third place in the Pacific Division and an automatic playoff berth, and six behind the second-place Canucks. The Kings are in fourth with 75 points, and each of those division rivals has a game in hand on San Jose, which fell to just 15-15-5 at home.
It’s not looking good.
“It’s painful because it’s a team we’re chasing in the standings,” Wingels said. “These opportunities, there’s not too many more of these. They slip away.”
Joe Pavelski said: “It was our biggest game to date. We got the start we want and we get the lead, and we give it away slowly. We can be better than that.”