PITTSBURGH – Almost nothing works for Sidney Crosby in shootouts, so he tried something new. For Marc-Andre Fleury, it was simply a matter of going back to what he did so well in the past.
Crosby’s hard wrist shot fooled San Jose goalie Brian Boucher for the only goal in the shootout and the Pittsburgh Penguins rode Fleury’s strong goaltending to a 2-1 victory over the Western Conference-leading Sharks on Wednesday night.
Crosby is one of the NHL’s least-efficient scorers in shootouts, going 0-for-4 this season and 9-for-32 in his career before beating Boucher between the pads as he skated down the slot.
“I just tried to give him a different move. Just from watching him the first couple of times, I thought there was some room in the five-hole,” said Crosby, who played despite being weakened by flu-like symptoms.
Fleury turned aside 36 of 37 shots as Pittsburgh won for the third time during a four-game homestand and climbed within one point of idle Florida for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot.
“We’ve just got to keep going – it’s our playoffs,” Crosby said, referring to the Penguins’ need to play with urgency despite having 26 games remaining.
Fleury was largely responsible for the Penguins reaching the Stanley Cup finals last season, but is 11-11-1 since returning from a groin injury in mid-December.
“I think it’s just easier to get into the game when you see pucks at the beginning,” Fleury said. “Just get your focus a little easier, so it’s always good to have some pucks. To be able to get those points tonight against a very good team was big for us.”
San Jose, coming off a 5-2 win at Boston on Tuesday night in a matchup of the two NHL conference leaders, is 1-2-2 in its last five games despite its 37-7-8 record. The Sharks are 10-1-2 against Eastern Conference teams.
“It was a tough night for us, an emotional win from last night, the travel,” coach Todd McLellan said. “They played pretty hard and I’m not sure we had our gas tanks where we needed them to be. We found a way, at least, to get a point.”
But the Sharks also got only one goal – Joe Pavelski’s 14th of the season at 11:07 of the third, before Fleury stopped Milan Michalek, Pavelski and Dan Boyle in the shootout. Fleury stuck out his right pad to turn aside Boyle, the Sharks’ final hope after Crosby scored.
Petr Sykora and Evgeni Malkin each missed ahead of Crosby for Pittsburgh, which was playing for the first time since losing to Detroit 3-0 on Sunday.
“In the last three weeks we’ve played better and sometimes the result is not always there, but you could see it’s coming,” coach Michel Therrien said. “We just have to build on this game.”
San Jose had won four of its previous five in Pittsburgh and was 11-0-1 with a tie and five consecutive victories in its last 13 against the Penguins, outscoring them 42-24.
The first goal in a tightly played game with few penalties, few breakaways and good goaltending came from an unlikely source – Penguins forward Bill Thomas.
With the second period winding down, Miroslav Satan carried the puck into the Sharks zone and fed it to Thomas along the goal line. Thomas’ bad-angle shot banked in off defenceman Rob Blake and past goalie Brian Boucher for his first goal in 22 months.
“It was kind of a fluky play, but that’s what you do – you’ve got to throw the puck to the net, you never know what’s going to happen,” said Boucher, who started for the first time since Jan. 10. “Blake’s trying to do the right thing, but it happens to ricochet off him and in through my legs.”
A second assist was later given to Jordan Staal, the 100th of his career.
Thomas has 10 goals in 53 career games, but had not scored in 12 games during two stints with the Penguins this season. He and Ryan Malone, now of Tampa Bay, are the only Pittsburgh-raised players to score for the Penguins.
Thomas hadn’t scored since April 8, 2007, when he played for Phoenix.
San Jose’s Mike Grier had a short-handed breakaway with five seconds left on a Penguins power play late in the third, but shot the puck into Fleury’s pads.
The Penguins also couldn’t score on a power play set up by Blake’s holding call 39 seconds into the extra period.
Notes: The Sharks are 3-3 in shootouts, the Penguins 4-3. … Pittsburgh had as many shots, 11, by the end of the first period as it had in its 2-1 loss at San Jose on Oct. 28. The Penguins finished with 36. … The Sharks didn’t draw a penalty until Blake’s hooking call at 8:17 of the second. Staal took Pittsburgh’s first penalty, for roughing, at 4:40 of the third. … Boucher came in with a 9-1-1 record and 1.87 goals-against average in 12 starts. He hadn’t started against Pittsburgh in nearly five years, or before Crosby joined them. … San Jose has been shut out only twice, the last time Dec. 18 in a 6-0 loss to Detroit. … Malkin, the NHL scoring leader, hasn’t scored in successive game for the first time since Jan. 3-5.