SAN JOSE- The Sharks may have a propensity of struggling in third periods this playoff season, but when questioned about that fact after their 4-3 win in Game 3 over the Vancouver Canucks, Sharks captain Joe Thornton gave a rebuttal.
“No, we’re just after wins,” responded “Jumbo Joe,” who has certainly been playing up to that nickname in these playoffs.
Thornton picked up three assists on the night, increasing his team leading point total to 17 in 16 playoff games and helping lead the way as the Sharks cut Vancouver’s series lead to two games to one.
But it wasn’t just the captain who brought his “A” game. Patrick Marleau picked up two goals and an assist to continue his hot scoring streak of late. The oft-maligned former Sharks captain had picked up a goal in three straight games coming into Friday’s contest.
And goaltender Antti Niemi gave the Sharks a much needed dominant performance in net, allowing three goals on 30 shots but nonetheless coming up with key saves at key times to preserve the lead, a lead the Sharks wouldn’t give up.
The Sharks jumped out of the gates in front of their home fans and staked themselves to a 3-0 first period advantage. Power-play goals by Marleau and then Ryane Clowe made the score 2-0 8:22 into the game and at that point the Sharks were a perfect 5-5 in the series on the man advantage.
Later in the first, a nifty steal by Thornton sprung Marleau on a breakaway that ended up in Marleau’s second goal of the period and delivered that 3-0 advantage.
Unfortunately for the Sharks, the lead would be cut down to one late in the third period on successive power-play goals during a five minute major. San Jose’s Jamie McGinn – playing for the first time in the series – got called for boarding Vancouver’s Aaron Rome at 11:22. The gritty San Jose forward received the major and a 10 minute game misconduct for the questionable hit.
Goals by defensemen Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa – coming less than three minutes apart during the major penalty – cut the Sharks lead to 4-3 with just under four minutes remaining.
San Jose, however, held on to the one-goal lead in the final moments, surviving a late turnover by Torrey Mitchell which led to a glorious chance for the Canucks to tie the game.
For the Sharks and Thornton, a win is a win, as they get right back into the series but a couple of nuances were huge in this game that might otherwise go unnoticed.
In the second period, the Sharks killed off nearly two full minutes of 5-on-3 time as rookie center Andrew Desjardins took two back-to-back penalties sandwiched around a Thornton minor. Thanks in part to great shot blocking by center Joe Pavelski and big time saves by Niemi, the Sharks carried their 3-0 lead into the third period.
While the stat sheet might indicate the Sharks let up two power-play goals on seven opportunities (a poor percentage), in reality the penalty kill came up with a tremendous performance when they needed it the most.
Furthermore, a Sharks team that has been horrendous this postseason in the subsequent shifts following a goal, did a much better job weathering the storm. Early in the third period the Canucks got on the board to make the score 3-1, but the Sharks didn’t allow Vancouver to build any momentum and were able to get the next goal for themselves.
“Definitely, it’s a momentum game” chimed Desjardins, who, despite the penalties played a strong fourth line center for the Sharks in his first career playoff game. “It’s a big deal to get out there for the next few shifts to get the pressure back on them and change the momentum back over.”
The fourth line was a new look for the Sharks as Ben Eager (who played a very undisciplined game two in Vancouver), Scott Nichol and Benn Ferriero all sat out after playing in Game Two. McGinn and Mayers filled in the fourth line with Desjardins and the unit gave the Sharks a much needed strong performance.
Rolling all four lines definitely helped sustain momentum and keep pressuring the Canucks even after that early third period goal. Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan chimed in about the importance of not letting the Canucks get another quick goal.
“I thought that was a real important sequence for us to play the next four, five, six minutes…try to regain our composure” McLellan said. “Much better composure on our behalf.”
San Jose would go onto convert on their 5-on-3 opportunity at 6:46 of third, re-establishing their three goal lead when Dan Boyle one-timed a point shot through Roberto Luongo’s five hole.
“The fourth goal at the time, you didn’t really know where it was going to stand at the end of the night” Boyle said. “It ends up being a game-winner, it was a huge goal.”
Boyle’s goal, his third of the playoffs and 15th point in 16 playoff games may have seemed like merely extra cushion at the time but it ended up being more crucial than anyone could have expected.
Preventing Vancouver from sustaining an attack after that early third period tally and then extending the lead back to three ended up being the difference in the game. Had the lead been just two when McGinn took the five minute major penalty, the two Vancouver goals would have tied the score at three a piece.
This time around, the Sharks regrouped when they could have let the momentum swing to the other side, and that was the one of the keys to holding on for the win. Statistics may say the third period was another poor performance, but they did enough good things to win and in the playoffs that’s all that matters.