ST. PAUL, Minn. – The San Jose Sharks were already reeling, weary at the end of this rough nine-game road trip.
Then their coach took a stick to the head, and they coughed up a late lead. Home sweet home, indeed.
Jed Ortmeyer’s first goal of the season put the Minnesota Wild ahead with 4:13 left in a 4-3 victory on Sunday, sending the Sharks back to San Jose with a 2-6-1 record on this 16-day journey.
“Nobody is feeling sorry for us, that’s for sure. We just have to work our way out of it,” said captain Joe Thornton, who gave the Sharks a 2-0 lead just 3:21 into the game after Tommy Wingels scored first.
They fell flat in the second period, after coach Todd McLellan was inadvertently struck by Wild defenceman Marco Scandella’s stick in front of the bench after he was hit by Jamie McGinn of the Sharks. After staying down for a bit, McLellan walked gingerly to the locker room and didn’t return. He didn’t need stitches and travelled home with the team, but he was in too much discomfort to address the media afterward.
“I did think we were on our heels for a little bit. It was just an emotional moment for everyone, to kind of have that go on,” assistant coach Matt Shaw said. “In retrospect, we probably should have tried to delay some things for a little bit longer.”
The Sharks were refocused in the third period and took the lead with 11:15 remaining in the game when Brent Burns one-timed a power-play slap shot past his former Wild teammates and goalie Niklas Backstrom. He skated back to the bench with a big smile on his face, but that’s not the mood the Sharks finished with.
Matt Cullen scored the tying goal with a deflection of Scandella’s try from the blue line. The puck bounced in the goal like a basketball with 5:27 remaining. Then just 74 seconds later, Ortmeyer sliced across the slot and got a stick on Jared Spurgeon’s long shot.
“We need to do a better job of taking our men and closing out games. We just didn’t finish it off tonight,” McGinn said, adding: “It’s going to be a long flight home. We’ll do some stewing about it tomorrow and probably do some video, but you know we have to get back at home here and get back on the winning side because it’s playoff hockey right now.”
The Sharks, who lost 6-2 to the Nashville Predators on Saturday, face a four-game homestand next week. They’ve fallen behind the Phoenix Coyotes in the Pacific Division and are only one point ahead of the eighth-place Dallas Stars in the Western Conference race.
“You definitely have to work out of it. Eventually the bounces will turn,” Thornton said.
Cal Clutterbuck’s end-to-end goal, his first after 10 games without one, helped the Wild salvage something from a sluggish first period to cut the lead to 2-1. And Ortmeyer wasn’t the only one who got his first score of the season. Defenceman Nick Schultz’s slap shot just four seconds into a power play tied the game at 2, shortly before McLellan went down.
“It’s nice to chip in and be a part of the offence a little bit,” Schultz said.
Not only did the Wild get their defenceman to put strong shots on goal, but they got the traffic in front of the net they needed.
“We had a little spark, a little energy,” Ortmeyer said.
The Wild had a 13-2 edge in shots on goal in the second period, but goalie Thomas Greiss made some slick saves to keep the game tied.
The Wild welcomed three new players to their lineup: defenceman Kurtis Foster, right wing Nick Palmieri and left wing Stephane Veilleux. They were acquired on Friday with draft picks from the New Jersey Devils for dissatisfied defenceman Marek Zidlicky. The Wild have used an NHL-most and franchise-record 42 players this season, nearly double the active roster limit.
“We had a little bit of a spark here from some new guys in the room. I think it was a game that was pretty reminiscent of the way we were at the start of the year, so that’s a good sign,” Clutterbuck said.
“The message before the game was forget standings, forget wins and losses even. Let’s get back to playing our game,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said.
NOTES: Schultz’s last goal was on Jan. 2, 2011, a span of 101 games. This was his first power-play goal in 2 1/2 years. Ortmeyer hadn’t scored since March 28, 2010. … Thornton has 20 points in his last 14 games. … Cullen has three goals in four games after a 15-game stretch without one. … The Wild won three of the four meetings with the Sharks this season, two in regulation.