SAN JOSE, Calif. – Ron Wilson celebrated plenty of wins at the Shark Tank as the home coach. His first one there since being fired by San Jose nearly three years ago was a milestone.
Carl Gunnarsson scored a tiebreaking goal midway through Toronto’s four-goal third period and the resurgent Maple Leafs gave Wilson his 600th career win by beating his former team 4-2 on Tuesday night.
“It’s pretty special,” Wilson said. “Only six other guys have done it. You don’t see it very often. The best thing is that we managed to find a way to do it here.”
Clarke MacArthur scored twice, Phil Kessel added another goal and James Reimer made 40 saves to help the Maple Leafs win their fourth straight game and just second all season when trailing after two periods. The Leafs have also won five straight on the road.
Patrick Marleau scored twice for the Sharks, who have lost five straight and have a losing record this late in the season for the first time since April 2006. Joe Thornton assisted on both goals to end a five-game pointless streak, his longest drought in 10 years.
But that wasn’t enough to end San Jose’s skid or prevent Wilson from reaching the 600-win plateau in a place where he had so much success.
Wilson won 206 games during four-plus seasons in San Jose, leading the Sharks to the playoffs four times. He was fired in May 2008 after the Sharks were knocked out in the second round of the playoffs by Dallas—their third straight second-round exit.
This was Wilson’s second trip back to San Jose since he was fired, having lost 5-2 in December 2008. And this game did not appear to be going his way through two periods, as Toronto trailed 1-0. But the Maple Leafs scored three times in less than seven minutes to take control.
“Last time in here was a buzz saw we ran into,” Wilson said “The Sharks were up 4-0 in the first period and we didn’t have a chance. Tonight we took advantage of a team that’s squeezing their sticks right now. We got great goaltending obviously from Reimer. He was unbelievable when we needed him. Great penalty killing, and timely goals.”
Kessel, selected to the all-star game earlier in the day, got it started when he skated past a diving Dan Boyle and then eluded a poke check from goalie Antti Niemi before sending the puck into the empty net.
“I had arguably the worst game I have had all year,” said Boyle, also picked for the all-star game earlier in the day. “I’m in no position tonight to say anything about anybody else. Most of the guys played well. I take a lot of pride in what I do out there. Tonight I was way off. It was a very, very bad, terrible game.”
Then, with Niclas Wallin in the penalty box for interference, MacArthur eluded Jason Demers and fired a shot through a screen by Mikhail Grabovski and into the net to make it 2-1.
Marleau tied it for San Jose, but less than two minutes later Toronto took the lead for good. Gunnarsson tipped a point shot from Dion Phaneuf in traffic past Niemi for his second goal of the season and the game-winner.
“I saw it the whole way,” Gunnarsson said. “I just put my stick out there. I got lucky and got a piece of it. I don’t know if it would have gone in anyways, but I’ll take it.”
Niemi kept the game close, stopping Kessel on a breakaway with 3:46 to go, but MacArthur’s empty-net goal in the final minute sealed it.
“We have been whining about our offence lately, but tonight it was our defence commitment that let us down,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said.
Toronto’s last three wins have come with Reimer in goal in place of injured Jean-Sebastien Giguere. With Giguere slated to return Thursday in Phoenix, Reimer is forcing the Maple Leafs to reconsider their plans to send him back to the minors.
“I have no idea what’s going on,” he said. “I think Giggy is close but I have no idea what the deal is. I just take it day by day like I have been the past few days.”
Despite four power plays and 21 shots, the Sharks were unable to score in the second period in a continuation of what has plagued them during their recent skid. In fact, the 21 shots were the most they had ever had in a period without a goal.
Making the period more painful was the fact that San Jose also lost leading goal scorer Logan Couture to a knee injury after he was kneed by Colton Orr.
“I was disappointed in the call,” McLellan said. “I don’t think it should have been a minor penalty. It’s a very dangerous play.”
The Sharks snapped a scoreless streak of more than 105 minutes midway through the first period when Thornton chased down a long pass off the boards from Demers and fed Marleau for the one-timer. Before that goal, San Jose scored on just one of its previous 137 shots dating to late in the second period against Vancouver on Jan. 3.
Notes: Kessel has scored in four straight games. … The previous Sharks record for shots without a goal in a period was 20 in the third period at Columbus on Feb. 10, 2010.