COLUMBUS –- Just how difficult is it to win six straight road games in a 10-day span on the opposite coast, including a pair of back-to-backs?
Joel Ward summed it up.
“It was pretty impressive. I’ve never been part of that, even in video games,” said the charismatic forward.
There were a number of contributors to the Sharks’ most exciting win of the year on Sunday in Columbus, as San Jose erased a two-goal third period deficit to storm back to a 5-3 triumph, but Ward’s individual effort on the power play stands out.
After an offensive zone faceoff win by Joe Pavelski, Ward controlled the puck at the top of the circle and threaded a perfect pass across the ice through two Blue Jackets to Brent Burns, who one-timed it home. That tied the game at 3-3 midway through the third.
Talk about something out of a video game…
“I looked out the corner of my eye and I saw Burnzie sliding down,” Ward said. “I was going to shoot it originally but then I saw a lane open and just tried to fire one across. It was a good pickup by him to connect that.”
While Ward getting on the scoresheet is not surprising -– he’s tied for second on the team in scoring with 17 points –- the game-winner later in the final frame came from an improbable source.
Brenden Dillon, who hadn’t scored since last January, took advantage of a faceoff win by Chris Tierney and directed the puck through traffic to give the Sharks a 4-3 lead they would not relinquish.
On the kind of run the Sharks are enjoying, contributions will come from everywhere.
“We play the game to win as a team, but individually we play to contribute,” said Joe Pavelski, when asked about Dillon’s goal.
The only team member on the trip that hadn’t had a hand in the first five wins did play a part on Sunday. Alex Stalock won his second straight start in net, making 28 saves.
“The way [Martin Jones] is playing it’s tough to get in there,” Stalock said. “At the same time, it’s a team. We love winning.”
Coach Pete DeBoer, who missed Saturday’s win in Pittsburgh, returned to the team after a “little family medical emergency, and thankfully everything is OK.” He was gushing after the game about the team’s leaders, and he wasn’t alone.
After all, the Sharks could have been content to pack it in after getting down 3-1 early in the third period. Securing 10 out of 12 points on a difficult roadie would still have been an impressive feat.
“Absolutely. That’s human nature, but I didn’t hear any of that,” DeBoer said. “If anything, it wasn’t us as coaches in there rallying the troops. It was a quiet confidence. These guys don’t talk it, they walk it. The leaders went out there in the third and just refused to lose the game.”
Dillon said: “That for sure can creep in –- you think about getting 10 out of 12 points, that would be great. But, we really wanted to focus on getting every point we could.”
After enduring a dysfunctional 2014-15 season in which part of the goal was to reset the group’s leadership structure -- adding quality people in Ward and Paul Martin in the offseason, and making Pavelski the new captain -- the team’s leadership appears resilient. It’s filtering through the rest of the group, too.
DeBoer said: “I’ve just been impressed with the leadership. The guys driving the bus here, they’re just refusing to lose.”
“This group, you see it with our leaders all the way to the guys that are playing five and six minutes a night,” Stalock said. “Everybody is fired up after that game, everybody chipped in, and we’ll have a fun flight home.”
After a hot start to the season followed by a bumpy few weeks, the Sharks can take pride in putting together one of the more impressive streaks in the 25-year history of the franchise.
“It’s a fantastic group of men in there that really are out to prove something,” DeBoer said. “It’s nice to be a part of what we just witnessed here.”