SAN JOSE, Calif. – The way the San Jose Sharks have been playing of late, even a third-period deficit is no reason to get down.
Marc-Edouard Vlasic celebrated his 26th birthday by scoring the game-tying goal with 5 minutes left in the third period and Logan Couture got the only goal of the shootout to lead the Sharks to their fourth straight win, 3-2 over the Phoenix Coyotes on Saturday night.
“We’re a confident team,” Couture said. “We didn’t sag on the bench, stayed up and kept going after them. We knew we were playing well. … We’re confident we can come back.”
A few wins will do that. San Jose had lost seven of nine games before this current streak, falling into ninth place in the Western Conference. But four wins over six days has vaulted them into sixth place.
Joe Pavelski scored for the fourth straight game for the Sharks and Antti Niemi made 27 saves as San Jose extended its longest winning streak since opening the season with seven consecutive wins. Niemi stopped Antoine Vermette in overtime and turned aside all three shootout attempts.
“I think the confidence is going up. From where it was at the low point, you can feel it going up,” coach Todd McLellan said. “A lot of good things were said, as soon as we go down. Guys stuck with the game plan for the most part.”
Boyd Gordon and Radim Vrbata scored for the Coyotes, who have lost eight of their past nine games to plummet in the Western Conference standings. Jason LaBarbera made 32 saves to lose his seventh straight decision to San Jose.
“We had the lead with five minutes to play. This has to be a win,” captain Shane Doan said. “Every time you lose it’s a lost opportunity. We’re running out of games to get points in. It’s getting more and more desperate—we have to find better ways to win. We have to get more points than just one.”
Couture, who blocked a shot by Vrbata with San Jose short-handed in the closing seconds of overtime, started the shootout with a goal when he came in with speed and beat LaBarbera with a forehand. Niemi ended it with a pad save against Mikkel Boedker in the third round.
The Coyotes took the lead 33 seconds into the third period when Vrbata got inside of Tommy Wingels to receive a pass in the slot from Doan. Niemi stopped Vrbata’s first attempt but had no chance on the rebound that put Phoenix ahead 2-1.
The game stood there until late in the period when Vlasic pushed in aggressively behind the net with the Sharks desperate for the tying goal. Pavelski put a shot on net from a bad angle and Vlasic knocked the rebound past LaBarbera for his second goal of the season.
“They’re hard to play against,” Vlasic said. “We needed to throw pucks on net. I did that twice, Pavs did that and we got a goal. It was a good comeback for us.”
This was the second time in three games that Phoenix allowed a late goal to tie it and then lost. Minnesota rallied to tie the Coyotes in the final minute Wednesday before winning in overtime.
“It’s frustrating now,” Vrbata said. “We have the lead and we can’t keep it. We can’t close it. We couldn’t find a third (goal) to put it away. We could be 3-0 on this road trip and no one would be surprised. It hard when you only play Western Conference teams—you are giving them points and losing ground with each loss.”
It was a clean game with neither team wanting to give up a power play by being too aggressive for a penalty. There was only one penalty called in regulation, a double minor for high-sticking against Phoenix’s Rob Klinkhammer on Justin Braun in the second period.
The Coyotes paid for the offensive zone penalty when Pavelski took a drop pass from Joe Thornton at the blue line and blasted a shot past LaBarbera early in the second period to match a career best with a goal in four straight games.
The Sharks generated plenty of scoring chances in the first period but still trailed 1-0 because LaBarbera came up big in the net and Gordon capitalized on Phoenix’s best opportunity. After a scramble for the puck near the front of the net, Gordon got there and lifted a backhand into the net to end Niemi’s scoreless stretch of more than 136 minutes.
NOTES: San Jose D Jason Demers was scratched after taking a hard hit Thursday against Detroit. … Brent Burns, who played the last nine games at forward, moved back to defence and Adam Burish played wing on a line with Thornton and Marty Havlat. … Phoenix D Keith Yandle played in his 400th career game.