ST. PAUL, Minn. – The surging San Jose Sharks have sustained enough momentum to survive a late lapse. The Minnesota Wild settled for a shootout loss and had to be happy, considering their recent play.
Patrick Marleau saved the game in overtime and scored the winner in the shootout for the Sharks, who won their franchise-record ninth straight game, 3-2 over the Wild on Sunday.
“A little bit of confidence, it goes a long way,” San Jose coach Ron Wilson said. “We’re at a point right now where a little bump isn’t going to hurt us.”
Marleau knocked Marian Gaborik’s last-minute shot out of the air and out of danger to preserve the tie and set up the shootout. Joe Pavelski scored first for the Sharks and Marleau wrapped it up for the visitors after a nifty 360-degree spin move by Pierre-Marc Bouchard kept the Wild alive.
They were stifled all afternoon by that smother-the-passing-lanes, pack-it-in San Jose defence until Brian Rolston’s 26th goal tied it at two. With 28.8 seconds left in regulation and goalie Nicklas Backstrom pulled for the extra skater, Rolston let one of his rocket slapshots rip. It bounced around like a pinball before glancing off Sharks defenceman Marc-Edouard Vlasic and past the line.
The Wild, 3-6-2 in their last 11 games, put stock in the comeback and the salvaged point and insisted they can use this performance against the NHL’s second-best team toward a strong finish.
“Guys were on the puck. We were skating as a team, battling. We were sticking together,” Bouchard said. “There’s 12 games left, and they’re all important.”
San Jose’s Evgeni Nabokov was as good as ever, playing in his league-leading 66th game and making 21 saves – plus two big blocks in the shootout of tries by Mikko Koivu and Gaborik.
Tomas Plihal scored on a penalty shot, the first allowed at home by Minnesota since the franchise began in 2000, and Milan Michalek scored 46 seconds into the game for the Sharks. Seven of their wins on this streak have, fittingly, come away from home. They lead the NHL with a 24-8-3 mark on the road and trail only Detroit in the Western Conference race.
“Obviously, we’re playing well, but it’s such a competitive league that you can’t get too comfortable,” Nabokov said. “If you’re going to take time off, you’re going to find yourself losing two in a row and fighting for that eighth playoff spot.”
That’s essentially where the Wild found themselves this weekend, though they still clinged to a one-point lead over Colorado and Calgary in the Northwest Division after Sunday’s game. They are only three points ahead of ninth-place Vancouver.
“I think we’ll play as good as this in the next games, all the games that are left,” coach Jacques Lemaire said. “So now we will determine if we’re good enough to be there. That’s how it’s going to be.”
In overtime, with less than one minute left, Gaborik led a 2-on-1 rush and nearly won it with a wrist shot that cleared Nabokov and was on the way in until Marleau alertly batted it away.
“Most teams try to get everything fine-tuned, on a roll, before the playoffs,” Wilson said. “We’re playing well, but we still have some things to do.”
Kurtis Foster, with help from a distracting Pavol Demitra near the crease, scored on a slap shot in the second period to cut the lead in half, but then Minnesota went the first 13-plus minutes of the final frame without a shot on the net.
The Wild are 2-for-23 in their last five games on the power play, including 0-for-2 on Sunday, and they’ve watched their once-certain playoff chance turn tenuous.
Late in the first period, Keith Carney tried a slapshot from the San Jose blue-line that was blocked by Plihal and instantly turned into a breakaway. The only way Carney could keep Plihal from breezing into the opposite zone was to hook him. The penalty shot was awarded, and Plihal took advantage with another score that went to Backstrom’s stick side.
Lemaire later questioned the call by joking that, because his native language is French, perhaps he didn’t read the rule book correctly. The fans booed, though not as loudly as the jeer for the sputtering Wild when the first intermission arrived.
Notes: After his first healthy scratch since signing with Minnesota before last season, forward Mark Parrish returned to action. Lemaire said he played all right. … Nabokov’s career high for appearances is 67, set in 2001-02.