The fifth and final game of the final road trip of more than two games this 2015-16 NHL season did not end quite the way the San Jose Sharks had hoped Wednesday, Feb. 24. They did earn a point for the 18th time in their last 21 games (14-3-4), but lost another half a game on the Anaheim Ducks for second place in the Pacific Division.
The three-time defending Pacific Division champion Ducks have won six in a row and are now a game ahead of the Sharks and a game behind the crosstown rival Los Angeles Kings. The Avalanche have moved half a game ahead of the Central Division-rival Minnesota Wild for the final wild card thanks to a small edge from the pictured stars Wednesday.
The competitive nature of this game is represented not only on the scoreboard but in an event summary that had no clear winner: San Jose lost six more faceoffs but had no giveaways to five for Colorado and a 4-1 edge in takeaways. Those two extra net possessions were compensated for with five more hits for the hosts, making for very even attacks throughout the game.
The Avalanche only had two more attempts (54-52) but got eight more on net (41-33) thanks in part to blocking four more (18-14). That is an edge of 34.6 to 25.9 in percentage of attempts blocked and a ratio of just 1.83 to 2.93 shots per block for the Sharks.
This was a game for former Toronto Maple Leafs to debut and score. The day after Colorado picked up Shawn Matthias for Colin Wilson and a 2016 fourth-round pick, San Jose picked up Roman Polak and Nick Spaling for second-round picks in 2017 and 2018 plus the moral and salary (but not cap, as he was in the AHL) burden of Raffi Torres.
None of those players had skated for their new teams until Wednesday. Spaling wasted no time in announcing his arrival, making sure he will be hard to scratch when Tommy Wingels comes back (possibly as soon as the return home against the Buffalo Sabres Friday) on his very first shift.
Spaling blocked a shot 125 seconds into the game, scooped it up and advanced to the right-wing circle. He then used Dainius Zubrus as a decoy and ripped a shot over Calvin Pickard’s shoulder and in off the iron, with the entire process taking five seconds.
The Avalanche drew back to even with just under seven minutes to go in the first period: Carl Soderberg won an offensive zone faceoff, got the puck back from Francois Beauchemin and skated wide before shooting it on Martin Jones. That shot did not go in but the rebound came right to Matthias with open net to backhand it into.
That score held up through both intermissions despite 21 combined shots on goal in the middle frame, but the teams found another gear for the beginning of the third period. In the first two minutes, Paul Martin advanced the puck to Tomas Hertl in the neutral zone for a cross-ice feed to Brent Burns breaking into the offensive zone.
Burns skated along the boards behind the net and threw the puck in front for All-Star teammate Joe Pavelski. When it bounced off Erik Johnson’s skate and past Pickard, the Sharks had a blue-line 20-goal scorer for the second time in franchise history (Sandis Ozolinsh scored 26 per Hockey Reference in the 1993-94 NHL season).
That lead did not last four minutes. After drawing a penalty on Joonas Donskoi, Jarome Iginla one-timed home a feed from Tyson Barrie that gave captain Gabriel Landeskog a secondary assist.
Landeskog began and eded the scoring play that got Colorado its first lead of the game just over six minutes later. He advanced the puck from Nathan MacKinnon to Andrew Bodnarchuk, headed into the offensive zone and took a return feed before whacking home his own rebound.
From there, San Jose had nine of the last 11 shots and 16 of the last 19 attempts in regulation. The ninth shot was the one that did it with 1:31 to go.
Joel Ward was on with the top line because Jones was pulled and got into position so he could punch home the deft feed by Thornton after retrieving the puck Pavelski chipped towards the corner. There were no goals in overtime but two of three Avalanche shooters scored while neither of the Sharks did, giving the home team the extra point.