The San Jose Sharks must have been watching the inspiring victory by the Golden State Warriors over the Oklahoma City Thunder Saturday, Feb. 27. Sunday’s game at the Vancouver Canucks followed a similar theme.
With its captain leading pictured stars, the fatigued Bay Area team found a way to execute a late comeback in the arena of its rival originating from the Pacific Northwest. San Jose’s did not have the miraculous tone that Golden State’s did and Vancouver is nowhere near the opponent Oklahoma City is, but this game was more lopsided.
In a quirk of the 2015-16 NHL season schedule, the Sharks have already played all games against the Anaheim Ducks and all but one against the Los Angeles Kings—teams they are chasing—before playing the Canucks once. Sunday was the first of three games between the teams this week, then they play another back-to-back to end March.
After a scoreless and evenly-played first period, Vancouver took over after intermission. Seconds after Justin Braun got back out of the box for the first penalty of the game, Ben Hutton’s shot attempt ended up with Henrik Sedin getting the puck to his brother Daniel. Martin Jones stopped the first shot but the second whack put San Jose down 1-0 just over three minutes into the middle frame.
The Canucks held a 9-4 edge in shots during the period and had eight of the first nine attempts in the third. However, the Sharks blocked six of those attempts and only allowed one on goal before captain Joe Pavelski pounced on a loose puck from a Marc-Edouard Vlasic dump-in pass and put a quick backhander past long-time franchise nemesis and 2010 Vancouver Olympics MVP teammate Ryan Miller.
After that, San Jose had the advantage. Just 2:28 later, Vlasic quickly gained possession of a puck just inside the offensive zone and sent it across to his defensive partner. Braun wasted no time firing the puck toward the net and Tomas Hertl deflected it past Miller for what would hold up as the game-winning goal.
Consecutive Vancouver slashing penalties in the final seven minutes made sure of that. Joe Thornton got the puck from Pavelski on Miller’s flank and fed Patrick Marleau for the one-timer goal from the slot on the two-man advantage. Miller was pulled with over three minutes to go, and Logan Couture won a faceoff to Braun for an empty-net goal from just inside the defensive zone a couple minutes later.
The Sharks won with the kind of simple, mistake-free game they fail to play at home against inferior competition like Friday’s Buffalo Sabres. Putting the Canucks on a two-man disadvantage helped get a small edge in the event summary (31-24 faceoffs, 3-5 giveaways, 5-10 takeaways, 9-15 hits, 50-50 attempts, 28-24 shots and 13-11 blocks) but had even more impact on the scoreboard.
Coupled with the first-place Los Angeles Kings losing in regulation to the second-place Anaheim Ducks, San Jose has moved within six points of the top in the Pacific Division with one more game remaining on the 2015-16 NHL season. It is also four points back of second and 12 points ahead of Vancouver with an equal 21 games remaining.
To get the kind of credit the Warriors have earned, the Sharks will need to win games in June. Until that opportunity comes, having the second-best road record on the 2015-16 NHL season and winning some of those games with grit leads one to believe that this team is different…so long as Friday’s home loss is the anomaly of one regulation loss over the last 10 home games and not a return to the trend of 24 wins in the prior 70 home games.