SAN JOSE -– The Sharks didn’t lose to the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday as a result of the troublesome fissure in the organization that came to light less than 36 hours earlier.
They lost because they made enough mistakes against a legitimate Stanley Cup contender that is simply a more talented team. The effort was there, and through two periods the Sharks probably deserved better than a 2-2 tie, but the Blackhawks pulled away in the final frame to claim a 6-2 win at SAP Center.
“Our job is to come here and play hockey, and that's what we did,” said Logan Couture, when asked if the Joe Thornton-Doug Wilson rift has become a distraction. “Guys showed up, and I thought we played pretty well.”
Joe Pavelski said: “We support each other and we want to play, and we want to play hard. Guys responded pretty well with that today. But, you’ve got to find a way right to the end to win. It can’t get away from us like it did.”
The key moment occurred early in the third period. Mirco Mueller lost his footing while trying to play a puck that Teuvo Teravainen lobbed into the offensive zone, allowing Brandon Saad to easily give Chicago a 3-2 advantage at 1:21 of the final frame.
“That's unfortunate,” Todd McLellan said. “Mirco's a 19-year-old and he's going to carry that goal with him for a while, but we've all made those mistakes. … You can go back in everybody's career, and it happens.”
Brenden Dillon, whose avoidable interference minor led to a second period power play goal by Duncan Keith, was next to Mueller at the time of the misplay.
“The puck is bouncing, he catches an edge and they capitalize on a chance like that,” Dillon said. “It ends up being the game-winner. But, we had chances to come back after that, and by no means is that [Mueller’s] fault at all. We’ve got five guys on the ice that can help out, and it was a tough one.”
Matt Irwin had bounce over his stick on its way to Brad Richards a few minutes later, resulting in Richards setting up an open Bryan Bickell in the slot at 4:56. Patrick Sharp’s power play goal at 15:10 made it 5-2, putting the game out of reach for the Sharks.
The game was there for the taking earlier, though, and after 40 minutes the Sharks were outshooting the Blackhawks 26-13. They erased 1-0 and 2-1 leads by Chicago, showing worthy resolve.
“We never felt in danger, by any means,” Pavelski said. “We just kept playing when we went down.”
The disappointing part was that Chicago, now 6-1-1 in its last eight, took control after Saad’s goal. The Blackhawks poured 17 shots on goal in the final frame to nine by the Sharks.
“We didn't do a good job of being resilient after the third goal, and the fourth one killed us,” McLellan said.
No one in the Sharks’ dressing room blamed the defeat on being distracted by the comments from Thornton on Friday, in which he suggested that general manager Doug Wilson “shut his mouth” in regards to him and the team’s decision to take the captain's 'C' off of his sweater.
Despite the 6-2 margin of defeat, there is no reason to think otherwise, as the score didn’t indicate how close the game was for most of the afternoon. Thornton even scored the Sharks’ second goal, and helped set up the first one, too, finding an open Irwin for a shot that Melker Karlsson whacked in on a rebound.
Couture said: “Joe's been good all year, not just today. He's been one of, if not the best player on our team all season. He shows up every single night and works as hard as anyone on this team. He wants to win.”
“We like the guys in this room. Guys that are here I think understand that more than ever,” Pavelski said. “Our job is to play, and that’s what we’re going to do. I think if you watch our game, especially early, it wasn’t a distraction. We’ve got to find a way to win, bottom line.”
The path to the playoffs is now an even more difficult one, as Sharks attempt to qualify for their 11th straight postseason. They don’t return home until April 1, and begin a seven-game road trip in Winnipeg on Tuesday that could probably be dubbed a must-win as the Jets are still ahead of them in the standings.
Even if they’re not preoccupied by recent events, they’ll have to win at least nine or 10 of their remaining 13 games.
“We're going on a real tough road trip, and we know what lies ahead of us and we know where we are in the standings,” McLellan said. “That's all we're focused on right now, is dealing with that.”