ST. PAUL – Playing their second game in as many nights, against an opponent coming off of one of the worst losses in franchise history, the Sharks fell behind early and were in trouble.
Jason Zucker took advantage of a misplay by Alex Stalock in opening the scoring late in the first period, while Jared Spurgeon’s goal came after a slumping Patrick Marleau got lost in the defensive zone a couple of minutes later.
Coach Todd McLellan was naturally concerned. On the other hand…
“I also thought that could work in our favor a little bit, too,” he said. “We talked about checking well enough to get the next one, force them into some mistakes, and really our first one was really similar to theirs. … When you haven’t won, you can get a little tight if you put some pressure on them."
McLellan is referring to Melker Karlsson’s third goal in as many nights, when the rookie took advantage of a strange carom off the glass on Brent Burns’ hard rim to cut the Wild lead to 2-1 in the second. The Sharks were the better team from that point on (other than an atrocious power play), and also in overtime, when Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s second game-winning goal in as many nights gave San Jose its second straight win for the first time since Dec. 18-20.
[RECAP: Sharks surge late, beat Wild in OT]
Prior to Vlasic’s marker, third period goals by Joe Pavelski and Tommy Wingels – routinely mentioned by McLellan as team catalysts, along with Vlasic – allowed the Sharks to pull through despite some early lethargy and still without top center Joe Thornton.
“We weren’t hard on pucks, a couple turnovers and mental mistakes,” Wingels said of the first period. “In the second, everyone was hitting, everyone was winning battles, and that’s when the game changed. We were all over them. Our forecheck, there was more intensity to it. I thought that’s where the momentum definitely went to our side.”
Vlasic, who also tallied with less than five seconds in regulation against Winnipeg on Monday night in a 3-2 Sharks win, said: “That first period, they kind of pushed the pace a little bit. We took it to them for the rest of the game.”
The Wild, which lost 7-1 to Dallas on Saturday and was forced to play Tuesday’s game without leading scorer Zach Parise, dropped its eighth game in the last 10 (2-5-3). They are quickly fading.
The game was rewarding for Stalock, in particular. The 27-year-old goalie had a large contingent of friends and family in attendance in what was his first start in his hometown.
Considering his mental error on the Wild’s first goal, the evening could have ended much differently.
“Obviously, it was a tough start,” said Stalock, who played several games at Xcel Energy Center in college for Minnesota-Duluth. “You learn the hard way sometimes, and obviously I learned the hard way tonight on that first play.”
He continued: “This is my first NHL game in this building, but I’ve played a handful of games already here with big crowds. But, it was cool to play against the Wild, obviously. There was excitement coming in.”
He settled in after the bad one, and couldn’t be faulted for the second or third. Marleau was primarily to blame for Spurgeon’s goal, while Zucker had an easy tap-in for the third period equalizer when Justin Braun was too focused on puck-carrier Charlie Coyle along the wall.
Stalock’s teammates didn’t seem surprised that the backup maintained his composure despite the early faux pas.
“He played well the rest of the game,” Wingels said. “It’s easy for a goalie to look in the mirror and be unhappy with himself after that, but he stuck with it, kind of like our team did tonight.
“We stuck to our game plan, and sharpshooting Eddie bailed us out.”