Mar 8, 2012; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Stars center Jake Dowell (11) and center Mike Ribeiro (63) and defenseman Mark Fistric (28) celebrate the goal by right wing Michael Ryder (73) as San Jose Sharks goalie Antti Niemi (31) looks on during the second period at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE

Sharks fail to close out Stars, lose in OT-Shootout 4-3

Tomas Vincour’s game tying goal with 1:15 remaining in the third period followed up later on by his game winner in the shootout lifted the Dallas Stars to a 4-3 victory over the San Jose Sharks as team teal drops it’s first game of a critical four game road trip. The Sharks who had taken a one goal lead late in the third period thanks to Joe Pavelski once again failed to close out a game they probably should have been able to win, and had won in the past few seasons. Once again though, despite gaining a point in the standings with the game going into an overtime period, the Sharks found another way to drop an important game in what’s becoming one of the most frustrating post All Star break runs in recent team history.

The Sharks did have some moments in the game of solid play and seemed to find parts of their game as the evening wore on. However this overtime loss is a blow for the Sharks who just could not hang on to the lead late. In the overtime period, the Sharks had a golden opportunity to win the game when they had a power play opportunity. It just seemed the Sharks were just looking too hard for the perfect shot and ended up not converting this chance either. With the overtime loss, the Sharks remained in 8th place in the overall Western Conference Standings as the LA Kings and Anaheim Ducks lost in regulation tonight while Phoenix gained a point with an OTL versus Minnesota. The Coyotes are 7th with 76 points while the Sharks have 75.

Recapping a Hard Night in the Panhandle:

Sharks on the Attack- Team teal came out skating hard and would assert some early domination on the ice. The Sharks would have a good share of scoring opportunities however could not manage to put anything past Dallas goalie Kari Lehtonen. Meanwhile Antti Niemi early on would get some tests from an equally tough Stars attack. Niemi managed to stop some hard incoming shots from Jake Dowell and Mike Ribeiro. The Sharks would try and make the most of a power play opportunity later in the first period when the Stars Ryan Garbutt was send to the penalty box for roughing. The Sharks had quality chances and put many pucks on net, but had no luck getting any past Lehtonen who turned away several Sharks chances. Slap shots from Dan Boyle and Brent Burns and a wrister from Joe Thornton were all stopped by the Stars goalie. Off of Burns slap shot from the point, the rebound came off of Lehtonen’s leg pad right to Patrick Marleau. However, Marleau on his shot attempt may not have gotten enough of his stick on it and this allowed Lethonen to make another save despite having a portion of the net open.

The Sharks in the first period managed to put 16 shots on Lethonen however were not able to score off of any of them. By the time the period had ended, the Sharks goal scoring drought that dates back to the beginning of their last home stand had reached 17 periods with just four goals scored. Meanwhile Niemi would hold serve for the Sharks as he made eight saves on the Stars.

Staying Cold – The Sharks would continue to keep the pressure on Lethonen and the Stars and kept the Dallas goalie rather busy. Dominic Moore came fairly close about five minutes into the period as his shot beat Lehtonen but hit the left post. Burns had two solid shots on goal that Lethonen also managed to keep out of the net. Niemi would get similar challenges for the Stars offense as he made two solid saves on Alex Goligoski and Stephane Robidas. Later in the period the first huge break of the game would go to Dallas as off of a Sharks offensive surge the Stars’ Dowell would get ahold of a loose puck and pass it out of the Dallas defensive zone to Michael Ryder. Once Ryder got open into the Sharks zone splitting Boyle and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, his sharp wrister beat Niemi five hole and the Stars had the games first goal.

Meanwhile, the Sharks did their best to keep the heat on Lethonen but neither shots from the slot by Marleau or a wrister by Ryane Clowe from the right wing area could get the Sharks even. The second period would be winding down and it looked as if the Sharks were about to make it four goals in 18 periods of play. However, there was still some seconds on the clock and the Sharks kept pushing the envelope.

Droughts Busters?- As seconds ticked off of the clock for the second period, Vlasic pitched the puck out of the Sharks defensive zone over to Thornton who was just past center ice. Torrey Mitchell who skated by Thornton took the Captains pass and headed towards the goal. With the Stars’ Goligoski trying to cut Mitchell’s path off, Mitchell put a move that corkscrewed Goligoski and then allowed for him to get a wrister shot away as he was falling down. The puck slid underneath the surprised Lethonen and the Sharks had tied the game with just :01.4 seconds to go in the period. Mitchell’s buzzer beater gave the Sharks some badly needed momentum going into the third period.

The Sharks started the third period attacking the Dallas defensive zone once again. Once in the Stars’s zone Pavelski was able to send a pass to Marleau. Marleau then handed off the puck to Thornton who then passed it back to Marleau. From there, Marleau drilled a wrister that gave the Sharks their first lead of the night at 2-1, just 25 seconds into the period. The Sharks would continue to mount pressure on the Stars however again were turned away by Lethonen who certainly seemed more focused after Marleau’s goal.

Momentum Swings- As the third period would wear on, it seemed the Sharks could be on the verge of getting another goal to separate themselves from the Stars. However, this would not be the case. The Stars would start to gain some momentum after a hard check to the boards of Tommy Wingles seemed to ignite Dallas shorty after Marleau’s go ahead goal. Niemi would have to make a difficult save on a shot from Vincour on one Stars scoring rush. Later, Goligoski would drill a slap shot from the left point that hit the post. This was not to say the ice was totally tilted in the Stars favor as the Sharks too would have a quality opportunity only to see Andrew Dejardins get robbed by Lethonen as he stopped a point blank shot on goal.

With just over 13 1/2 minutes remaining Jamie Benn of the Stars would take a loose puck in the Dallas defensive zone and skate up ice with it. After crossing into the Sharks defensive zone Benn passed the puck over to Adam Burrish who then pitched it back to Benn. From there Benn took control of the puck and slid it underneath Niemi to tie the game for Dallas. As Benn was getting ready to put the puck on net, Ryan Garbutt tripped Dan Boyle has he was getting back on defense. However there was no call made and the game played on.

With 3:40 to go in the third period, the Sharks had control of the puck inside of the Dallas zone. Thornton from near the right corner made a pass to Pavelski who was charging up the slot. Pavelski would fire a shot point blank from the slot that just missed wide. However Pavelski would get to the puck again at the back of the net, then pass it over to Thornton. Boyle came up from the point and took Thornton pass, then put the rubber biscuit on the net. Lethonen blocked Boyle’s shot attempt, however the puck bounced away over to Pavelski who found a way to bury the puck and give the Sharks a lead again at 3-2. All the Sharks had to do now is hold off the Stars for the remaining 3:32 on the clock and team teal would leave Texas with two points in the standings.

Coffee is for Closers - During this post All Star brake swoon, the Sharks have lost games in a lot of ways, including simply not being able to protect late leads. Tonight would be no different as once again team teal could not handle Dallas’ late surge. Just as the Stars pulled Lethonen for the extra attacker, the Sharks were again trapped in their own zone by the opponent at the key moment of the game. Dallas kept control of the puck as the Sharks simply were unable to clear the zone. With 1:15 left, Robidas received a feed pass from near the Sharks goal from Benn. Robidas fired a shot on net that resulted in a mad scrum in front of the team teal net. The officials called it no goal on the ice. Unfortunately for the Sharks, the replay showed the puck crossing the goal line before Niemi could grab it. The tip in came from Vincour to tie the game and send it to overtime.

In the overtime neither team scored though both teams had their chances. Niemi made a key stop of a Loui Eriksson attempt from the slot. The Sharks also got what appeared to be a huge break when Ryder was called for a two minute minor for holding, pulling down Couture in the Stars defensive zone. The Sharks had their best opportunity for a win here however could not score despite the four on three advantage. The Sharks here spent a lot of time looking for a perfect shot or so it seemed. The Sharks had three shots on goal but again nothing to show for it otherwise. As the penalty, Ryder came out of the penalty box and got ahold of the puck and fired a hard shot at Niemi who had to make the save as time was running out.

In the Shootout period, once again the Sharks recent inability to score goals came back to rear it’s ugly head. Lethonen would stop all five shots he faced while the Stars Vincour scored the only shootout goal beating Niemi who had stopped the previous four shots. Clowe, Pavelski, Wingles, Moore and Couture were all turned away as Lethonen completed a rough but successful game for himself as well as his team.

Game Analysis- The real only light you can cast on this one is that the Sharks managed to get a point out of this in the Western Conference Standings, keeping team teal at a very precarious 8th place position. The Sharks put in probably their best effort as a team since the Philadelphia game on February 28th. The only problem is the Sharks are having a real tough time avoiding the mistakes that ultimately cost them games. Somehow, allowing a team to score on you with under two minutes remaining mostly because you are not able to get the puck cleared out of your zone can lead to bigger problems as it did tonight. The power play in overtime saw Lethonen maybe challenged once, with the Sharks seemingly more concerned with that “perfect shot” which often times does not happen. Team teal here basically ran out the power play simply buy running the clock down on themselves and not being at least a little bold to go for the jugular.

As the losses are piling up, the Sharks chances to win the Pacific Division and guarantee the number three seed, plus home ice advantage in the playoffs first round are starting to see this opportunity slip away slowly but surely. Simply stated, the Sharks cannot afford to be giving games away that they should be able to close out. This game was certainly their’s for the taking…except for they didn’t take it. One thing is for sure, the remaining 16 games will fall into the must win category as every loss looms even larger now. I did agree what Sharks commentator Jamie Baker said after the game, that if the Sharks continue to go hard as they did tonight they should make the post season. My only disagreement in that context is this, for that to happen the Sharks need to rediscover winning at some point or this season will soon go by the wayside…


The King Shark


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