Sharks Edge Backstrom, Wild

SAN JOSE — Despite out shooting the Minnesota Wild 34-21 through 40 minutes, the Sharks had to wait till the third period to find a decisive game-winning goal. And fittingly, Patrick Marleau pumped home the game-winner on St. Patrick’s Day.

Exactly five minutes into the third Marleau received a cross-zone pass from Joe Pavelski on the power-play. San Jose’s leading goal scorer (27) then quickly uncorked a wrist shot from the top of the left face-off circle that found it’s way past Wild neminder Nicklas Backstrom to put the team ahead for good at 3-2.

“Good time for the power-play to step up,” Marleau said of his winning goal, “Backstrom was really good on there side, he’s one of the top goalies in the league.”

Backstrom turned away 47 of the 50 shots and put in a top caliber performance, most notably in the final two periods but a first period save off  Logan Couture stood out the most.

About seven minutes into the opening period, the Sharks’ new look line of Ben Eager, Ryane Clowe and Couture teamed up for an unbelievable chance. Entering the offensive zone, Eager found room to uncork a slap shot from dead smack between the top of the faceoff circles. The subsequent rebound bounced right to Couture in the low slot to the right of Backstrom but the rookie’s shot would be denied by a utterly ridiculous sprawling pad save. Backstrom kicked up his right pad while diving to the right post and deflected the puck up and over the net.

Minnesota and San Jose exchanged goals in quick succession during the first period started at the 11:29 mark when Pavelski hit a streaking Jamal Mayers in stride down the center of the ice. Mayers then broke in alone and backhanded a shot that beat Backstrom to the stick side.

Less than four minutes later, John Madden struck for the Wild on a Sharks power play. A two-on-two rush looked to be nothing out of the ordinary until a blocked shot got lost in Dan Boyle’s skates and Madden was the only one who could locate it and the gritty Minnesota forward controlled and chipped it under Niemi’s left arm to tie the game.

In the second period the Sharks and Backstrom took over for good. The Sharks outshot the Wild 21-9 in the middle stanza but could only solve Backstrom just once in the period. Perhaps feeling as if he were owed a goal, the hockey gods rewarded Couture with a goal that came virtue of a centering pass redirecting wildly off a Minnesota defender, off the crossbar and in at the 11:33 mark.

But just like the first period, the Wild countered with the equalizer. A little less than two minutes after Couture’s goal, Kyle Broziak took a beautiful chip pass from Martin Havlat in stride and beat Niemi to the far glove side at 13:23.

From that point on, the period would be all Sharks and all Backstrom. With all four of San Jose’s forward lines creating chances, and the top three of which all playing like top-six forwards, the game could have gotten out of hand if it wasn’t for the Finnish netminder in the Minnesota net.

In the final minutes, Backstrom made numerous high quality saves, including stoning Marleau twice on the same sequence. After an original shot attempt was blocked, Marleau nearly scored on the wraparound but a sprawling Backstrom stretched out for the save and when Marleau got his own rebound, Backstrom reached up with the glove and snatched it out of the air.

During the final 20 minutes San Jose continued to pepper Backstrom with chance after chance and ended up out-shooting the Wild 50-30 come the final buzzer. Marleau’s winning goal on the power-play was the second goal for the Sharks that beat Backstrom by virtue of bouncing in off one of the goaltender’s own defenseman parked out front.

In reality, you could say that Backstrom stopped 47 out of 48 shots, which would probably be a better indicator of his performance than 47 out of 50. He quite nearly earned his desperate club two points all by himself.

“[Backstrom] made some real good saves,” Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. “That’s why he is a premier goaltender.”

Granted the Wild pumped 30 shots of their own at the other end but defensively the Wild were no match for offensive depth of San Jose. Niemi made a handful of difficult saves in his own right but Backstrom deservedly was named the game’s second star.

The first star however, went to the Sharks’ Pavelski who chipped in two assists, giving him eight points in three games over the last four days. San Jose’s “third line” center now has 54 points in 64 games, a career points per game rate. Now realistically speaking, the American born center is no where close to being your “run-of-the-mill” third line center.

“The Big Pavelski” truly is one of the most under appreciated elite two-way players in the game today. Playing big minutes as part of the No. 1 power-play unit and penalty kill, Pavelski continues to be one of the most reliable forwards in all of the NHL. His current line featuring two fellow centers in Kyle Wellwood and Torrey Mitchell has arguably been the team’s most consistent forward line over the past several games.

“Three pieces that you wouldn’t think fit together really well but they do,” said McLellan. “They’re all intelligent, Mitchy’s playing with a ton of confidence right now, Pav in the middle with faceoffs and puck possession, and the puck just follows Kyle Wellwood around. Quite pleased with that and it’s never at the risk of anything defensively.”

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