The San Jose Sharks rarely host both ends of back-to-back games, but such was a schedule in which they had played the fewest games of any team on the 2015-16 NHL season. A prime-time game Sunday, Jan. 24 between the top Pacific Division teams followed a Saturday matinee against another team currently qualifying for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The five pictured Sharks led the team to three of four points to keep the streak of earning at least one going at nine. They would have earned all four had they made it more than 12.2 additional seconds.
Make no mistake, that was huge. With a regulation win, San Jose would have moved to within 2.5 games of the Los Angeles Kings. Instead, it sits four games back.
The Kings have not won the Pacific Division yet, but barring a collapse Sunday’s three-point swing forces the Sharks to play over .700 hockey to have a chance. Other teams are all more than five games back.
Los Angeles showed why it has won two Stanley Cups in the last four seasons. You could say that last goal was catching Lightning in a bottle because the former Tampa Bay star Vinny Lecavalier found the game that has eluded him for seasons on that shift.
Lecavalier simply redirected Tanner Pearson’s pass to the crease after captain Dustin Brown helped win a puck battle. The Kings finished the 13-second turn of events in the final minute of overtime when Tyler Toffoli advanced the puck to Marian Gaborik, leading to a rocket over the shoulder of Martin Jones.
Unfortunately, those scores detracted from the clutch score by Logan Couture with just over eight minutes left. He found a soft spot in the defense where Joonas Donskoi sent him the one-timer feed after winning a battle for the puck sent behind the net by Melker Karlsson. That score came just over five minutes after Jake Muzzin moved the puck from Anze Kopitar to Drew Doughty to tie the game on a Los Angeles power play.
The other goal exemplified the legitimacy of the secondary assist. After serving a penalty, Joe Thornton hustled to prevent an icing and battled two Kings to feed Tomas Hertl. The young winger sent the puck across to San Jose captain Joe Pavelski for the cross-ice one-timer goal to get scoring going early in the second period.
In Saturday’s matinee, it was the Sharks coming up with the late-game dagger against the Minnesota Wild. Who else but Pavelski would get it done?
Thornton got one of his two assists by winning that faceoff against Wild captain Mikko Koivu. Pavelski gathered and loaded, sending the game-winning goal through traffic with 84 seconds to go.
Minnesota had tied the game over six minutes earlier when Jonas Brodin got the puck from Marco Scandella and slapped a shot that caromed to long-time Los Angeles forward Jarred Stoll to poke home. San Jose had taken over the game in the second period with a 14-8 edge in shots that resulted in goals 98 seconds apart by Donskoi and Joel Ward, each of whom assisted on the other score along with one a piece from Pavelski and Couture.
Thornton and Pavelski fed Hertl for the first goal just 93 seconds into the game. The Sharks had lost only twice in the first 21 games in which they have scored first over the 2015-16 NHL season, but they did go into the first intermission down 2-1 thanks to former prospect Charlie Coyle giving the Wild a lead in the final minute before the first intermission from Nino Niederreiter and Jared Spurgeon. Chris Porter had tied the game from Scandella and Erik Haula over six minutes earlier.
San Jose won the faceoff (73-58 total) and takeaway (23-9) battles in both games, won and tied in shots (65-60), split attempts (130-119) and hits (45-58) but had at least as many giveaways (25-20) in each game and lost both times in blocks (33-41). Most of that success came against Minnesota.