SAN JOSE – A pair of pucks from the Sharks’ 3-1 win over Anaheim could be on their way to their respective owners’ trophy cases.
Logan Couture’s 100th career goal, and Bracken Kearns’ first, helped the Sharks to an important win over their Pacific Division rivals. After Brent Burns opened the scoring early, Couture increased the Sharks’ lead to 2-0 later in the first period, and Kearns gave them an important insurance marker and three-goal cushion midway through the second.
The Ducks’ 10-game winning streak is finished, and the Sharks will try to give them their first losing streak since mid-November when they rematch on Tuesday at Honda Center.
“A huge two games. We kind of spoke about that before the game,” said Joe Thornton, whose team is now five points behind the Ducks with two games in hand. “They’re kind of running away with our division right now, and tonight we kind of grabbed them and brought them back a little bit.”
Todd McLellan said: “To a man, I thought everybody left what they had on the ice. It was a still a tough night. They are a pretty darn good hockey club, they had a push at the end, but we hung in there and got the points we needed.”
Burns stayed red-hot, was the only player with multiple points, and now has seven points in his last three games (3g, 4a). While that’s all well and good, Couture’s goal ended a career-worst 11-game goalless drought, and the look of relief on his face when he backhanded a breakaway past Frederik Andersen was unmistakable.
“If I didn’t score that, I would have been really upset with myself,” Couture said.
“Kind of just, ‘It’s about time.’ I was happy to score. Forgot what it felt like.”
McLellan never seemed overly concerned with Couture’s dry spell, pointing out that his young star was still getting plenty of looks at the net and pucks at the goalie.
“I’m sure he feels the weight of the world off his shoulders now,” McLellan said.
“You can tell when a guy is really, really important to your team. Everybody felt happy for him, and felt his relief on the bench.”
Thornton, though, indicated that the club was even more thrilled for Kearns, who raced off of the bench to guide in a loose puck in front of the crease. The 32-year-old journeyman has spent the majority of his career in the minors, and didn’t even make his NHL debut until the age of 30 with the Florida Panthers. It was his 15th career NHL game, including seven in last year’s playoffs.
"It was amazing, absolutely amazing. It felt so good," said Kearns of his goal. He later added: “I've dreamt about scoring in the NHL since I was a kid, so it's an amazing feeling."
Thornton said: “All the bench had huge smiles on their faces, and he had an even bigger one. Super-happy for him.”
Kearns was recalled from Worcester and plopped in the middle of the team’s third line, which didn’t last very long as a unit after Tommy Wingels suffered an upper body injury in the first period and did not return. The injury-riddled Sharks are looking for more from their bottom six forwards since Joe Pavelski was moved to the Thornton line.
Maybe Kearns can find a regular spot, at least for the time being?
"I'd like to think so, but definitely one day at a time,” he said. “That's one thing I've learned in this sport. It's a cliché, but it resonates well with me. You just have to work so hard every day in the position I'm in. When you catch a break like that, you can't sit on it.”
The next mission is to give Anaheim, which is 14-0-2 at the Honda Center, its first regulation loss on home ice. A home-and-home sweep of the club that entered Sunday night as the best team in the league in terms of winning percentage would be quite an accomplishment.
“Tuesday’s going to be another huge game against them, so we’ll be ready,” Thornton said. “But, to get this one at home is huge.”