SAN JOSE – Three months ago, losing one of their key defensive cogs would have thrust the depth-deficient Sharks into pure survival mode.
On Saturday against the Rangers, not only did they survive, they thrived.
With Marc-Edouard Vlasic unable to go after hurting what appeared to be his right leg on Thursday in Arizona, the Sharks put forth one of their best efforts of the season in a 4-1 home win. They attacked in waves with four effective lines and allowed New York only a handful of prime scoring chances.
They also managed a season-high 52 shots on goal.
"You’ve got to play a complete game, and we did that,” said Joe Pavelski, regarding the Sharks’ inflated shot total. “We didn't turn many pucks over. ... We got second and third chances tonight.”
The Sharks deserved better than a 1-1 tie after two periods, outshooting and outplaying the Blueshirts. The only one of their 37 bullets to beat Henrik Lundqvist was Joel Ward’s power play goal on a beautiful assist from Joonas Donskoi, though. Dan Boyle’s marker late in the second knotted the score, and the game was up for grabs after 40 minutes.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Third period burst lifts Sharks over Rangers]
The Sharks didn’t allow any frustration to creep into their game for the third, and were finally rewarded. Joe Thornton converted a Tomas Hertl rebound at 5:45 of final frame, Ward’s second goal occurred at 7:34, and Pavelski marked his 33rd score at 9:05 on a two-on-none with Hertl to essentially wrap it up.
“I liked our game through 40 minutes. I thought if we stuck with it, kept pushing and kept pushing, that eventually we would find a crack,” Pete DeBoer said.
Chris Tierney said: “It seemed like we had our legs right from the drop of the puck. … We felt confident even when they tied it up there that if stick with the game plan, we had a good chance of winning.”
Dylan DeMelo took Vlasic’s spot in the lineup paired with Justin Braun, and skated a quiet 17 minutes and 42 seconds. In DeMelo’s case, quiet equates to effective.
“That means we had a good night,” DeMelo said. “I think we did a pretty good job together considering we haven’t played with each other a lot.”
DeBoer was pleased with DeMelo, who hadn’t seen NHL action since Feb. 22, as well as newcomer Roman Polak, who registered a game-high six hits.
“We all know how valuable [Vlasic] is, but I thought the depth of our group showed tonight,” DeBoer said. “I thought Roman Polak was outstanding, and DeMelo coming in after being out for three weeks gave us a great game. That was a good sign.”
Just like they did on defense, the Sharks showcased more depth at the forward position against the Rangers than they would have been capable of earlier in the season with Matt Nieto also sidelined. The fourth line of Dainius Zubrus, Nick Spaling and Tommy Wingels had a strong game, and was perhaps the Sharks’ best line in a scoreless first period.
Tierney was promoted to the third line center role. While the second year forward didn’t get on the scoresheet, he helped to create Ward’s second goal by crashing the net and creating some havoc around Lundqvist.
"We’re trying to reward guys on merit here as much as possible," DeBoer said. "He’s even played with more jump since we moved him up. He’s been a valuable guy for us."
Wingels played in his first game since Feb. 18 when he suffered a sprained left shoulder, although he was cleared to play last week and had to wait to get back in. He took a couple of minor penalties, but in typical Wingels fashion, managed to drag Tanner Glass to the box with him after he tripped Mats Zuccarello in the neutral zone.
DeBoer said before the game that he felt his club was much more prepared to handle injuries now than it was earlier.
Why is that?
“Because he’s got confidence in the whole group,” Wingels said. “Guys earn his confidence and each other’s confidence. When you show your linemates that you can contribute, and show your teammates that you can be relied on, the depth shines. To go far in this league, you need a full team of guys who can do that.”