The San Jose Sharks narrowly missed pulling off one of their bigger comebacks in franchise history last night in the Xcel Energy Arena in Minneapolis. Goals from Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau 22 seconds apart in the last three minutes were only to be nullified by shootout goals from Matt Cullen and Mikko Koivu as the Sharks would fall to the Minnesota Wild 5-4. In the first game of a four game road trip, the Sharks struggled to keep down the Wild’s attack and they kept pressure in team teal’s defensive zone and made it a long night for Sharks net minder Antti Niemi. Meanwhile, Niemi’s counterpart Josh Harding for the Wild was fairly dominant in net stopping the vast majority of Sharks scoring chances for most of the evening. The Sharks rally at least allowed them to pick up a point in the standings, but the feeling of losing to a team that was slumping hard (1-8-3 in their last 12 games before Tuesday night) could not be a good one on the plane flight to Winnipeg afterward.
The Wild despite their recent slump game into the game with emotion of Matt Cullen, a Minnesota native, playing in his 1000th career NHL game. Before the start of the game, Max Jablonski, the younger brother of injured high school player Jack Jablonski came out to center ice carrying the Wild’s team flag before a loud ovation. The game also marked the return of Brent Burns, who spent his entire career with the Wild before being dealt the the Sharks for Devin Setoguchi and Charlie Coyle this past off season. There was Setoguchi, who actually was a healthy scratch as he reportedly missed a team meeting earlier. There was Dany Heatley, who was also dealt to the Wild in a separate trade this past off season (for Martin Havlet, who’s out until March).
Taking a closer look at this match-up:
A Wild Night – The game would start out with the first few minutes being an even exchange of puck possession but not too many scoring chances. This did not last too long as the Wild would get the first break of the game with a three on two breakaway, led by Northern California native Casey Wellman feeding Cal Clutterbuck who had a clear path towards the Sharks goal. Clutterbuck was able to get in close enough to drill a quick snap shot that beat Niemi to his left and Minnesota had the lead. Shortly thereafter, Wild goalie Josh Harding made one of his best saves of the night early on as he turned away a point blank shot from Marleau who took a feed pass from Joe Thornton. The Sharks however would soon benefit from two Minnesota penalties within four seconds of one another. Jared Spurgeon was called for delay of game, followed by a slashing minor to Kyle Brodziak. On the five on three advantage, Dan Boyle would drill a slap shot that would beat Harding to tie the game at 1-1. Though he did not get an assist on the goal, Michal Handzus played a big role in screening Harding, clearing a path for Boyle and the puck.
The second period saw both teams go back and forth with the puck. However again it would be the Wild who would get the better of the scoring chances as they continued the pressure the Sharks in their defensive zone. Warren Peters, who had not scored a goal all season found a way to get his first, by crashing the net and distracting Niemi. With 6:38 the Wild’s Justin Falk was able to launch a slap shot that Niemi appeared to have under control. At the same time the puck arrived, so did Peters who amongst a throng of Sharks players scored as the puck appeared deflect of his leg and underneath Niemi to give Minnesota a 2-1 lead. Just seconds later, Cullen just missed giving Minnesota a two goal lead but hit the right post at close range, having clearly beat Niemi. The puck would go into the net after a mad scramble in front of the Sharks goal, however the official lost sight of the puck and blew the whistle giving the Sharks a reprieve for the time being.
The scramble in the Sharks goal resulted in minor penalties to the Sharks Jason Demers and Clutterbuck for roughing (or cage fighting as they went at it inside the Sharks goal). The Sharks once again despite the open ice would only continue to be stoned by Harding as he stopped another point blank shot form Couture during the four on four. Harding would continue to frustrate the Sharks as team teal continued to pressure the Wild in their defensive zone. The next break in the game would belong to the Wild at the 12:20 mark when Heatley was able to get ahold of a loose puck in the Wild’s defensive zone and quickly pass it off to Nick Johnson who launched a snap shot quite similar to the one Clutterbuck got off in the first period to beat Niemi. Johnson’s snap shot netted the same result, beating Niemi to his left (again). Minnesota now had a two goal lead, but the 3-1 cushion would be short lived as the Sharks continued to pressure the Wild in their zone. Ben Ferriero, near the Wild’s net was able to get into the right spot to defect a slap shot from Mark Edoward-Vlasic into the net to get team teal close at 3-2 with 10:13 remaining in regulation.
Things then really got Wild – With 6:25 remaining, Cullen was able to intercept a loose puck in the neutral zone as the result of a Sharks turnover. Cullen skated back up ice to the Sharks zone, flanked by Wellman. Both Cullen and Wellman arrived at the goal as Niemi tried to get into position to stop the rush. Cullen’s first try was stopped, but not controlled by Niemi and Wellman was able to fish out the puck. Wellman then knocked the rubber biscuit back towards Cullen who stuffed it into the net while lying on his back as both teams rushed towards the goal. The Wild now lead 4-2 and looked for a moment as if they had this game locked up…but not so fast, the Sharks were not finished yet by any means. With time running low, the Sharks knew to have any chance they would have to create offensive pressure and be able to keep the puck in the Minnesota zone. With the clock winding down to the three minute mark, Boyle was able to launch the puck towards the Wild’s net where Couture was able to wrest the biscuit from Harding. With an extra effort, Couture was able to jam the puck into the net to bring the Sharks to within 4-3. Just seconds after the faceoff, the Sharks came back down the ice with an odd man rush, and executed a perfect tic-tac-toe as Joe Pavelski entered the Wild’s zone and was able to get a pass to Thornton, who intern fed Marleau coming up the middle. Marleau got the puck at just the right point and tipped it past Harding to tie the game at 4-4 just 22 seconds after Couture’s goal. The goal was also Marleau’s 800th career NHL point.
Close, but no Cigar - In the overtime period Marleau had the chance to be the hero, twice within a minute. The first chance was just 19 seconds of the overtime as Marleau was able to tip the puck that he re-directed from a feed by Thornton. However, the puck traveled on the ice just slow enough for Harding to get to it before it had crossed the goal line. A moment later, Harding again stoned Marleau he had a point blank opportunity. The Sharks dominated the overtime however just could not get the winning goal. The game would go to the shootout, and it did not end well for team teal. In the shootout round, Cullen and Koivu would both be able to beat an apparently gassed Niemi. Meanwhile, Harding was able to stop shootout attempts by Ryane Clowe and Handzus and the Wild would get the win which was going to be hard earned, really no matter who won.
Game Assessment – The Sharks to their credit showed that they can comeback in a game which appeared to be lost after being dominated in many sections by the opposition. The two goals towards the end of the third period which tied the game were the result of grit and determination which both teams displayed. The fans at the Xcel Energy Arena certainly got their money’s worth with a very entertaining game of hockey that showcased how fast and furious this sport could be not to mention the skill level of the players on both teams. As for Niemi, simply put he had an off night. Niemi is as solid of a goalie as they come. He will have his share of bad games, but more often than not he has been there and will continue to be there. He did stop 27 shots, however by the time the OT rolled around it appeared he had nothing left in the tank and the Wild took advantage of it. The Wild despite their recent slump if they get it turned around should figure to finish in the top eight in the Western Conference. It’s entirely a possibility that these two teams could meet after April 15th in a playoff scenario, and that would certainly be a wide open series (I won’t call it “wild”, after all this is Blades of Teal).
Winnie and the Jets – The Sharks four game road trip continues Thursday Night in Winnipeg, where they will face the second incarnation of the Jets franchise. This will be the Sharks first visit to Winnipeg since the 1995-96 season. The Jets (the former Atlanta Thrashers) are lead by Blake Wheeler, Andrew Ladd, Evander Kane, Bryan Little, Dustin Byfuglien, and former Shark Kyle Wellwood who together have combined for 151 points, including 66 goals this season. The Sharks will also be playing in arguably the loudest opposing arena they will hear all year at the MTS Arena. The Jets are lead in the net by goalie Ondrej Pavelec who is 15-14-5 and a .908 save percentage. He is backed up by veteran Chris Mason who has a .915 save percentage.
Jabby 13 & Jenna 23 - I just wanted to close this article by making mention of the situation involving 16-year old Jack Jablonski who was paralysed by a spinal cord injury received during a recent high school game in Minneapolis. Doctors have described the injury as significant and there is a stong probability he won’t be able to walk again. This is a tragic situation to say the very least. Both the San Jose Sharks and Minnesota Wild teams have had players visit Jablonski at the hospital. We all in the hockey community unite during a situation such as this. Please visit his website at www.jabby13.com for more info, and if there is anything you can lend please do so. Also, and in a rather awful irony, 18-year-old Jenna Privette who was playing in a hockey game dedicated to Jablonski was checked against the boards and also did not get up. She has no broken bones and her spine appears not to be broken either. Reportedly the prognosis may be better for her than Jablonski. There is a Facebook page set up for her (as well as Jablonski). Thoughts and prayers to both for a speedy as humanly possible recovery. For more information. please refer to earlier video’s by our lead writer Amy Gist on this wesbite as she is following these stories closely.
The King Shark
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