SAN JOSE, Calif. – Even when they come out flat, the San Jose Sharks are somehow finding ways to win these days. The Colorado Avalanche can’t seem to end up on the winning side even on nights they play well.
Antti Niemi was perfect in the shootout just hours after getting a contract extension, and Ryane Clowe scored the only goal of the tiebreaker to give the surging San Jose Sharks a 2-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday night.
“It wasn’t pretty, it was a greasy win,” Clowe said. “‘It was nice to get the win, but it wasn’t our best game by any means.”
The Sharks were blanked for more than 57 minutes by a team that had won just once since Jan. 24 before Joe Thornton tied it with 2:58 remaining in regulation. Clowe then won it in the shootout, giving San Jose its seventh straight win and 16th in 19 games.
Niemi made 18 saves to cap a day that began with him signing a US$15.2-million, four-year extension.
Erik Johnson scored a power-play goal and Brian Elliott made 34 saves in his third game for Colorado since being acquired in a trade from Ottawa late last month for Craig Anderson. But the Avalanche were unable to close it out and lost for the 14th time in 15 games.
“The hockey gods just aren’t with us right now,” centre Matt Duchene said. “It’s frustrating. It’s almost laughable at this point. We work that hard, we play that well, with a team with that much offence, with so many guys having great seasons, we hold them to no goals with four minutes left and they find some way to score. It’s pretty frustrating.”
Clowe opened the shootout by firing a forehand past Elliott. This marked the second consecutive game in which Clowe scored the deciding goal in a shootout and the second straight time he did it with his forehand instead of his usual shootout move to the backhand.
“I was thinking of probably going backhand,” Clowe said. “I looked up and saw he might have been leaning a little bit to the glove side so I decided to go low blocker. That’s always a tough save for the goalie anyway.”
Niemi stopped Milan Hejduk after Clowe’s goal and then Duchene hit the post and David Jones shot wide for the Avalanche, who had won their previous three shootouts this season.
Colorado has scored two goals or fewer in 11 of its last 15 games and managed few good scoring chances against Niemi with just 19 shots.
“Of course it’s frustrating,” coach Joe Sacco said. “You’re playing one of the better teams in the conference. You shut them down for the majority of the game. They still had some good chances, their goaltender made some good saves, but at the end of the day we didn’t get the job done.”
The Avalanche broke up a scoreless game with a power-play goal early in the third. With Niclas Wallin in the penalty box for holding, Johnson stopped a clearing attempt by Jason Demers at the blue line. Johnson beat Niemi with a high wrist shot for his seventh goal just 78 seconds into the period.
The Sharks were unable to tie it on a power play of their own minutes later—their fourth failed chance with the man advantage—and then Joe Pavelski was robbed by the crossbar on a hard shot from the slot midway through the third that got the fans excited but was immediately waved off by the referee.
San Jose finally got the equalizer when Thornton made a nifty deflection at the side of the net of a point shot by Demers late in regulation.
“We challenged our big guys between periods that they have to step up a little bit and lead,” coach Todd McLellan said. “Jumbo ended up getting the tying goal. It took that long. We told them the rule-maker allows us 60 minutes to find one at least. We used almost the full 60. It was nice to see them step up.”
The game got off to a sluggish start, with each team having only one shot on goal in the first 10-plus minutes of the opening period. Both teams killed off a penalty in the second half of the period, with Elliott making the toughest saves on a point shot by Pavelski followed by the rebound by Demers.
There were only a few more chances in the second period but still no goals. Devin Setoguchi was robbed alone in close by Elliott early in the period. Niemi made a tough sliding stop against Kevin Porter, who was all alone at the side of the goal midway through the second.
NOTES: Colorado had allowed a power-play goal in eight straight games before stopping San Jose on all four chances. The Sharks came into the game with the NHL’s third-best power play. … The Sharks were undermanned after placing F Scott Nichol and D Kent Huskins on IR before the game with upper-body injuries. Defenceman Dan Boyle and F Ben Eager also sat with upper-body injuries.