Nabokov posted his second straight shutout, and Milan Michalek had a goal and an assist to lead the Sharks past the Minnesota Wild 3-0 on Tuesday night.
“If we had a power-play goal in there tonight, you could pretty much say it was a perfect game,” said coach Ron Wilson, whose team was not whistled for a penalty. “We started well, and maybe didn’t finish our chances, but we never got away from what we wanted to accomplish.”
The Sharks (40-25-2) moved past Dallas for fifth place in the Western Conference.
Manny Fernandez replaced Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom to begin the third period. Fernandez had missed the previous 14 games with a sprained left knee. Backstrom is 9-3-2 as his replacement.
San Jose scored three times in a span of six minutes in the second period. Michalek took a centring pass from Joe Thornton and tipped it by Backstrom at 7:57.
“Dump it in, win the race to the puck, and go hard to the net,” Wilson said. “That goal was like a coach’s dream.”
Ryane Clowe added a goal three minutes later, his 12th since returning from a groin injury on Dec. 9.
Jonathan Cheechoo, who has 15 points in 14 games, capped the second-period scoring with a wrist shot from the left circle.
Backstrom stopped 21 of 24 shots in two periods before giving way to Fernandez.
Fernandez, who could slip into a goalie controversy with Backstrom, stopped the only two shots he faced in the third period.
“I don’t think Nickie played bad,” Fernandez said. “He looked real strong to me. I don’t think there’s any easy way to come back from a five-week stop. Whether you play the whole game, whether you’re peppered or they don’t shoot on you a lot. There’s no easy way to do this. You either jump in the cold water or you don’t.”
Wild coach Jacques Lemaire said he will take his time before deciding which goalie will start Thursday at Buffalo.
There is no controversy surrounding the Sharks’ goalies.
Nabokov stopped 26 shots to earn his 33rd career shutout and third in 10 games. His six shutouts are second most in the NHL, along with Detroit’s Dominik Hasek and Calgary’s Miikka Kirprusoff.
Nabokov made two key saves early in the second period.
Todd White and Brian Rolston each had short-handed breakaways early in the second and Nabokov denied both. He turned away White one minute into the period and lost his stick while poke-checking the puck away from Rolston two minutes later.
“Nabby came up big,” Wilson said. “That could’ve been the key to the game. If they get the lead, they’re obviously going to be excited and we’re going to shaking our heads and saying, ‘Why did we do that?”‘
Added Nabokov: “That was a bit of a breakdown but we recovered nicely. Discipline was the key to picking up this road win.”
Thornton had two assists for San Jose, which will return home after playing three straight and 11 of 13 on the road.
The Wild had earned points in six straight games and hoped to gain ground in the competitive Western Conference.
“It’s obviously disappointing,” centre Wes Walz said. “It was a big game for us and we had a chance to move up in the standings. We’ve got two huge games coming up, so we can’t let this simmer. We’ve got to put it behind us and get ready for the road trip.”
Notes: Wild captain Mark Parrish skated during warmups, but sat out his second straight game with an upper body injury. … Sharks captain Patrick Marleau returned after missing three games with a shoulder injury. … San Jose owns the best road power-play percentage in the NHL. However, it has only managed one power-play goal in 18 chances against the Wild this season. The Sharks were 0-for-3 Tuesday.