SAN JOSE, Calif. – The San Jose Sharks know they’ve needed more than any team’s share of lucky bounces to get off to an 18-3-1 start. Not many were more fortuitous than the loose puck that went exactly where Joe Thornton wanted it in overtime.
Thornton gathered the puck and scored on a give-and-go with Ryane Clowe 45 seconds into OT, and the Sharks beat the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 on Wednesday night for their fifth consecutive victory.
Another standout first period with a 17-2 shots advantage devolved into a scrappy struggle for the Sharks, who finally faced a young, hungry opponent that could match their speed and aggressiveness. Captain Jonathan Toews scored two goals, including the go-ahead score early in the third period during a 5-on-3 power play set up by Mike Grier’s game misconduct penalty for injuring defenceman Aaron Johnson.
But captain Patrick Marleau tied it for San Jose midway through the third period with a clever wraparound goal past Cristobal Huet’s outstretched skate. Thornton then got the puck right where and when he wanted it in overtime, jumping on a turnover and trading bang-bang passes with Clowe, who had two assists.
“It’s a 50-50 puck, and sometimes it goes your way,” Thornton said. “Clowe fed me a great pass. It was pretty much an empty net.”
That final shot was so much easier than the process of getting there for the Sharks, who improved to 12-0-1 at home while taking 40 shots after an extended layoff with just one game in the previous eight days. Evgeni Nabokov stopped 26 shots in his return from a seven-game absence, and Rob Blake scored an early power-play goal in the Sharks’ 13th straight win over Chicago.
“We have to realize that nobody is going to give it to us,” said Nabokov, out since Nov. 6 with a lower-body injury. “We have to take it from other teams. We can’t take it for granted that we’re going to score because we take lots of shots.”
The Sharks have played 22 home games without a regulation loss since March 3, 2008. When the clubs met in Chicago 10 days earlier, the Sharks handed the Blackhawks their first home loss in regulation this season, but Chicago fell just short of returning the favour.
“I think so,” Chicago right wing Patrick Kane said when asked if the young Blackhawks are in the Sharks’ league. “Both games have been one-goal games … but we’ve got to win those games. We’ve had trouble with those games this year. We can’t seem to win in overtime.”
Huet made 13 saves after replacing Khabibulin for the Blackhawks, who haven’t beaten San Jose since Oct. 5, 2005, and haven’t won in the Shark Tank since March 19, 2003.
Chicago lost for the first time in four stops on its six-game trip. Toews scored a go-ahead goal 23 seconds into the third period during a two-man advantage for the Blackhawks, who lost Johnson and goalie Nikolai Khabibulin to second-period injuries.
“Hopefully they’re not severe,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said.
Grier got a game misconduct penalty late in the second period for boarding Johnson, who crumpled to the ice and eventually left holding his arm to his body. The hit wasn’t particularly hard, but Johnson wasn’t in position to defend himself after clearing the puck behind him.
“It was a dangerous hit,” Quenneville said. “I don’t think any intent was there, but certainly he was in a vulnerable spot and … we’ll see.”
Grier was surprised to get a major penalty, but realized the consequences of an injury-causing hit.
“I don’t know if he didn’t see me or what, but I guess I caught him by surprise,” Grier said. “It’s unfortunate. I hope he’s all right.”
During the ensuing five-minute power play, defenceman Dan Boyle made a spectacular play when he dived skates-first into the net to block a shot. Khabibulin then was forced to the locker room with another injury after making a series of saves in the final minute of the period, sending Huet onto the ice.
The Shark Tank crowd gave a rude welcome to Brian Campbell, San Jose’s big trade acquisition late last season. Campbell played well in the regular season but struggled in the playoffs before bolting for a $57 million free-agent deal with Chicago, and the San Jose fans aggressively booed him every time he touched the puck.
The Sharks opened with another one-sided period for the NHL leaders in goals and shots, but they didn’t take a lead until Blake scored on a long slap shot during a 5-on-3 advantage with 17 seconds left in the period. Chicago’s two shots matched San Jose’s season-low for shots allowed in a period.
Notes: Blake’s goal moved him into a fourth-place tie with Phil Housley with 129 career power-play goals by a defenceman. … Chicago D Brent Sopel was back in the lineup after a three-game absence. The Blackhawks dressed seven defencemen and scratched enforcer Adam Burish. … RW Dustin Byfuglien also missed his third straight game with an undisclosed injury.