SAN JOSE, Calif. – Marc-Edouard Vlasic knew the Sharks’ 11-month streak of home success was nearly as arbitrary and unpredictable as the goal that ended it.
The San Jose defenceman still hated to see a 31-game stretch without a real home loss end on a wacky deflection off his well-intentioned stick.
Dion Phaneuf scored his first goal since early November on that redirected shot with 3:57 to play, and the Calgary Flames handed San Jose its first regulation loss at the Shark Tank since last Feb. 14, winning 3-2 Thursday night in a lively meeting of division leaders.
Vlasic knows such fickle bounces all too often decide close games, but this one felt particularly bitter after he unflinchingly logged nearly 27 minutes of ice time while filling in for injured teammate Rob Blake, who got hit in the face by another deflected shot in the first period. His weary stick ended up in exactly the right place to nudge Phaneuf’s slow shot slightly past goalie Evgeni Nabokov.
“I wasn’t trying to do anything special, and it just hit my stick,” Vlasic said. “(The streak) isn’t something a lot of us were probably thinking about, but we wanted to play better against Calgary after they beat us pretty bad last time. We wanted to return the favour, and that’s what hurts more than anything.”
Ryane Clowe and Joe Thornton scored for the Sharks, whose 28-0-3 streak matched the second-longest in NHL history. Nabokov stopped 28 shots in the loss, which also left the Sharks one point behind Boston in the overall NHL standings.
San Jose dropped to 20-1-2 at the Shark Tank this season, with the defending Stanley Cup champion Red Wings arriving in two days.
“You let a road team hang around when it’s tied in the third period, and a lot of times something like that is going to happen,” Clowe said. “They’re going to get a bounce or something. We can’t sulk too long, because we’ve got a big game on Saturday.”
Daymond Langkow scored an early goal, and the veteran forward also kept the puck in San Jose’s end to set up the winning score with a pass to Phaneuf, who got his first goal in 26 games. Craig Conroy also scored and Miikka Kiprusoff made 33 saves for the Flames, who won with a superior third period and a bit of luck on Phaneuf’s winner.
“All night it was back and forth. We didn’t give them much, and they didn’t give us much,” Phaneuf said. “I came in off the point along the right side, and Langer made a great play feeding me. I don’t worry about (not scoring goals). I’ve been getting pucks to the net.”
The Flames have won 11 of 13 overall while taking charge of the Northwest Division, and two wins over the Sharks in 10 days could be a catalyst for a club that’s had mixed results against the league’s elite this season.
“We want to keep climbing, moving up,” Flames captain Jarome Iginla said. “We want to get to the next tier.”
The Sharks hadn’t lost at home in regulation since last Valentine’s Day, when Edmonton beat them before San Jose headed out on a lengthy road trip. Since then, the Sharks had lost only a shootout to the Oilers on March 16 and two overtime games against Edmonton and Nashville this season.
Of course, San Jose also lost three home playoff games last spring during their second-round burnout, prompting coach Ron Wilson’s departure and Todd McLellan’s arrival. McLellan’s club has been more disciplined and consistent than last season’s team, but the Sharks didn’t capitalize on their rare chances while getting shut out in the final 33 minutes against Calgary.
Blake was injured in the first period when a shot deflected up his stick and hit him in the face, McLellan said after the game. The Sharks had just five defencemen left, and Calgary capitalized on their weariness by dominating puck possession through much of the final two periods.
Blake went to a hospital as a precaution, McLellan said.
While San Jose never established an offensive flow, the Flames built on last week’s 5-2 victory over the Sharks in Calgary, an embarrassment that prompted McLellan to put his club through a brutal practice early the next morning.
“Nine days ago? I knew the Sharks weren’t happy about it, and that they would be prepared for this one, maybe get some vengeance,” Iginla said. “Then they got the early goal. It was a tough start, and they can get on rolls. We found a way to hold down the fort.”
Clowe scored just 60 seconds into the rematch when Dan Boyle, the Sharks’ aggressive All-Star defenceman, circled behind the net and found the power forward for his 19th goal. Thornton put the Sharks up 2-1 with a slick goal from the slot in the second period, but Langkow tied it 8 seconds into a Calgary power play with a tricky deflection when he was left alone at the net.
Boyle had assists on both of San Jose’s goals to give him 36 points, the NHL’s most among defencemen.
Thornton ripped a shot that ricocheted off both posts of Kiprusoff’s net during a power play just a few moments before Phaneuf’s goal.
Notes: San Jose routed Calgary 6-1 in November in the Flames’ first visit to the Shark Tank this season. “We’ve improved so much since that game,” Calgary coach Mike Keenan said. … The Sharks scratched D Alexei Semenov and used youngster Derek Joslin, who played in his fifth career game. … Calgary RW Todd Bertuzzi missed his third straight game with a hip injury.