ST. PAUL – The way-too-easy equalizing goals came in the third period, but the problems for the Sharks started happening well before that.
After allowing a number of odd-man rushes and breakaways in the first period, the Minnesota Wild cleaned up their game and controlled a good portion of the final 40 minutes of regulation in completing their comeback in a shootout, 4-3 at Xcel Energy Center on Thursday night.
Joe Thornton’s early third period goal put the Sharks ahead 3-1, but some slick passing plays up the ice by Minnesota led to a pair of goals by Kyle Brodziak that tied the game at 3-3.
They were pretty, but they also could have been prevented.
“Give them credit. Those are nice plays. They made some very nice plays,” coach Todd McLellan said. “But, we had some mistakes in areas that we can fix.”
Thomas Vanek earned the primary assist on both. On Minnesota’s third goal, Mirco Mueller was the lone man back for the Sharks, and was caught in no man’s land a bit when Vanek threaded a pass through the 19-year-old for Brodziak to whack home.
“I think I’ve got to play a little more back and try to not let the pass happen,” said Mueller, whose first NHL goal in the first period gave San Jose a 1-0 lead. “It was a perfect saucer right on the tape, but it’s probably my fault, for sure.”
Brodziak’s first goal, that brought the Wild back to within 3-2, came after the home team breezed through the neutral zone and Mueller and Tommy Wingels appeared to get mixed up in the defensive zone while Brodziak raced towards the crease and effortlessly tipped in Vanek’s feed, which got through Brent Burns.
Prior to that, Mikko Koivu’s goal in the second period tied the game when the Sharks’ third line was pinned in its own end for a long while, and Koivu charged towards the net before James Sheppard could react.
The Sharks wasted another strong effort from Antti Niemi, who made 43 saves in his third straight start.
“It’s fun to play, especially when we’re leading and there’s lots of work, but if there’s lots of shots there’s going to be some bad bounces and tough plays, too,” Niemi said.
Of the Sharks’ last four losses, they’ve held third period leads in three of them. Their 18 goals allowed in the third is tied for an NHL-worst with lowly Buffalo.
“It’s disappointing when you give up leads,” Joe Pavelski said. “We’re going to come back, we’re going to work hard, we’re going to work to get another two-goal lead, and we’re going to handle it next time. … We kept playing after [Minnesota tied the game] I think, and we had our chances. It’s always disappointing, though.”
Pavelski and company weren’t blind to the fact that they weren’t playing their best hockey even after Thornton’s marker. They still couldn’t reverse it.
“We knew it wasn’t our best game up to that moment,” Pavelski said. “We’re feeling confident we can [keep up] the pressure, and we just got caught a little bit up too much I guess, and they burned us a couple times.”
The Sharks nearly won the game in overtime, when Burns managed to power the puck over the line following an aggressive move to the net. The referees ruled that Burns made contact with Wild goalie Darcy Kuemper, though, in what was not a reviewable play.
Burns didn’t like it.
“I thought it was a good goal. I just kind of got pushed into the net so I didn’t really see it,” he said. “I knew it was in. They said I pushed the goalie, but I don’t know. Can’t say that I agree.”
McLellan said: “I’ve seen goals in the playoffs allowed in that type of situation where the puck is loose, and it’s allowed. I don’t know if the rule changed or if the decision was just made that it wasn’t allowed.”
Despite not being able to capture the two points, the Sharks did manage to pocket five of a possible six on their road trip. It hasn’t been a very easy schedule so far, either, with nine road games against just three at home.
The Sharks will host the Islanders on Saturday before some time to rest a bit before next Thursday’s tilt with Vancouver at SAP Center.
“We’ve got one more game and then we get a chance to work on our game and breathe a little,” McLellan said.