SAN JOSE –- There was a noticeably different energy at SAP Center on Saturday night for the Sharks’ game against the Washington Capitals.
In a season in which sellout crowds have been far from a sure thing, the building was as packed as it’s been in weeks to see the second half-surging Sharks host the NHL’s best in the Washington Capitals.
Perhaps adding to that atmosphere was the new organ that was installed, back by popular demand.
The bigger and more important alteration, though, was on the ice. The Sharks played back-to-back home games for the first time in exactly four weeks, finally getting to enjoy a stretch of nights in their own beds before competing.
All of the vital organs inside the 20 players on the ice were at full volume, too, and the result was arguably the Sharks’ best win of the season, 5-2.
All in all, it was a sharp contrast from Thursday night’s sluggish, sleep-inducing 3-0 loss to the dull Devils.
“You could feel it in warmups,” said Joe Pavelski, who scored his league-leading 10th game-winning goal. “The crowd was there. It was Saturday night. Obviously a great team (Washington), been playing well. I think the fans are feeling our game a little bit, and they're excited for it, and guys in the room are excited for it.”
The Sharks jumped out to a 1-0 and 2-1 leads on goals from Joe Thornton and a shorthanded effort by Patrick Marleau, but the Capitals responded each time. After Justin Williams’ marker at 10:12 of the middle frame re-tied it at 2-2, Washington, concluding a four-game road trip, dug deep and pushed hard.
The Caps had a great chance to take a lead with 13 seconds to go in the second, when Jay Beagle drew a penalty shot with his club shorthanded. Martin Jones calmly poked the puck away from Beagle before he could get off a shot, though, just a few minutes after the goalie denied the winger on a partial breakaway on two of his 23 saves.
The Sharks took a collective breath at the second intermission, stayed on the power play, and Pavelski cashed in just 49 seconds into the third to make it 3-2. A rare Brenden Dillon goal about two minutes later was the insurance.
“That was a big turning point for us,” Dillon said of the penalty shot save. “We go out at the start of the third, and get two quick ones.”
Joel Ward said: “Second period they threw up a pretty good wave at us, and Jonesy made some big saves. He’s been like that all year. That’s what you need, especially coming down the stretch and in the playoffs.”
Already essentially assured of their spot in the postseason, the Sharks got a chance to see where they stack up against one of the top teams in the league. They've had mixed results in such games in the second half, beating Tampa Bay and Chicago but losing to division rivals Anaheim and Los Angeles.
They were able to get contributions up and down their lineup, as 11 players got on the scoresheet against a deep Capitals roster.
“This time of year that’s what we’re looking for, contributions from your depth,” Pete DeBoer said. “We just did a lot of little things well tonight, and I thought we had all 20 guys participating, which is key against a good team.”
Pavelski said: "We have guys that are committed, that are doing it the right way, and you've seen that.”
The Sharks will hope to parlay Saturday’s triumph into some sustained success at home now, where they still have 10 of their final 14 games, including seven of the next eight. If their energy levels remain at or near where they were against the Capitals, positive results should follow.
They’re still just 13-15-3 in their own building, but that record doesn’t concern the coach, who was clearly encouraged by Saturday’s performance.
“I think it goes to show you it’s not home or the road, it’s us having good energy, good legs, and sticking to the game plan,” DeBoer said. “We’ve done it for long stretches here, so I anticipate we’re going to carry this over.”