SAN JOSE – When the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011, one of their key personality traits was an ability to get under the other team’s skin, constantly agitating and aggravating the opposition.
Nearly five years later that apparently remains, and was on display in their only visit to SAP Center on Tuesday night. The Bruins finished all of their hits, a few of which were borderline, and took every opportunity they had to try and harass and bump goalie James Reimer.
What else would you expect from a club whose leading goal scorer, Brad Marchand, is nicknamed the Little Ball of Hate?
The Sharks, though, not only showed a willingness to stand up for each other – something that’s been in short supply a bit in recent years, and even a few instances in this one – they claimed a 3-2 win thanks to timely scoring plays from Joonas Donskoi and Brent Burns, and a few late, stellar saves by Reimer.
The Sharks downed the NHL and Metropolitan Division leaders on Saturday, 5-2 against Washington, and followed that up with Tuesday’s effort against Boston, which entered as the top team in the Atlantic.
“These are good tests for us,” Joe Thornton said. “Everything's starting to come together nicely."
There were a number of get-togethers throughout the hard-fought match.
David Krejci took a whack at Reimer’s pads after the goalie had the puck secured late in the first period, drawing a crowd (and a slashing minor). Marchand bumped the San Jose goalie later in the game, and several Sharks immediately got in his face. In the third, the Sharks took exception to Jimmy Hayes’ shoulder directly to the jaw of Justin Braun on a play that eventually led to Donskoi’s game-winning goal.
“Getting down to the last couple games of the season and into the playoffs, every team that we play is going to be like this. So, it’s good to see,” Couture said. “We’re going to have to continue to stick up for each other.”
That’s not what happened on Saturday, though, when Melker Karlsson was getting crosschecked repeatedly in the back along the wall by one of the Capitals, while his fellow Sharks stood around watching. Or last Tuesday, when no one came to the aid of Roman Polak, who was getting pummeled by Darnell Nurse.
There was pushback against the Bruins.
“I think we have some team grittiness to us,” Pete DeBoer said. “Our compete level is very good as a group and they are sticking together out there, which is important.”
The game itself was a back-and-forth affair. The Bruins took advantage of some Sharks sloppiness in the first period to go ahead 2-1, including a shorthanded tally, but San Jose was the better team for the majority of the final 40 minutes.
Donskoi’s slick assist to Karlsson put the Sharks on the board, and in the third period he contributed his third power play goal and first goal of any kind in 15 games when he redirected in a low laser off the stick of Joel Ward that began with a seam pass by Burns. The first unit was ineffective and on the ice for Loui Eriksson's shortie, but the Sharks got that all-important power play goal anyway.
DeBoer said: “Our first unit was struggling a little bit with their pressure and we were giving up some opportunities going the other way. ... [The second unit has] come out and given us some energy and scored some big goals for us. It’s nice to have two units there that can do that.”
Prior to that, Burns tied it at 2-2 in the second period on a play in which he got a little lucky when his attempted pass deflected in off of Adam McQuaid’s shaft.
“I’ll take them,” said Burns, who now owns the franchise record for goals in a season by a defenseman, with 26. “In a week, it will be I went off the bar and in.”
Reimer was also key, especially late. He preserved the 3-2 lead by stopping Krejci on a breakaway, and denied Torey Krug with one second left on the clock after the offensively talented blueliner got open in the slot.
“He’s made some huge saves,” Burns said of Reimer, who improved to 2-1 with the Sharks on his 28th birthday.
Reimer appreciated his teammates’ efforts in front of him, both before and after the whistles.
“Obviously as a goalie you’re kind of vulnerable in there, so any time your teammates stand up for you, it’s awesome. It kind of pumps you up,” he said.
“I thought we battled hard, [and] played a really good game.”