SAN JOSE – Desperation brought out the best in the struggling San Jose Sharks on Thursday night.
Trailing 4-2 in the third period, the Sharks scored three straight goals in a span of 4:29 and stunned the Colorado Avalanche 5-4. Brent Burns, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture scored during their third-period surge, with Couture's goal at 11:29 breaking a 4-4 tie. Ryane Clowe and Michal Handzus also scored for the Sharks, who snapped a three-game losing streak and won for just third time in their past 10 games.
After his team had to rally from two goals down to win, Sharks coach Todd McLellan was asked if the glass was half full or half empty.
"Right now it's completely full, overflowing," McLellan said. "That's how important that win was to us. The fact that we could turn the tables on a team in the third period was important. The positive sign for me was the ability to recover a little bit. We didn't sag. We didn't feel sorry for ourselves. We talked about that between periods. That was the positive thing."
Paul Stastny scored two goals for Colorado, which beat the Sharks 4-3 in a shootout Tuesday night at Denver. Ryan O'Reilly and Daniel Winnik also scored for the Avs, who have dropped nine in a row away from the Pepsi Center.
"It's obviously frustrating and disappointing," Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said. "I thought we played well for 40 minutes. We had good energy against a team that was very hungry at home, and I still think we had good, solid play. We did some good things, but when we let that third goal in off a turnover, it certainly created some momentum."
The Sharks had blown third-period leads in each of their past two losses, falling to Chicago and Colorado. This time they had other ideas.
"We said in between periods, teams have done this on us, why don't we just turn it around for once?" Sharks captain Joe Thornton said. "Just shift after shift we just came at them and it paid off. Things haven't been going our way. It was just a matter of time before hopefully the game's going to shift to our side. With Burnsie getting that third goal, it really looked like the momentum shifted to our side. We just went from there. It was just a matter of time."
Burns sliced Colorado's lead to 4-3 with a goal at 7:00 of the third. Martin Havlat took the puck from Avalanche defenseman Jan Hejda along the right boards and fed Burns in the slot. Goalie Semyon Varlamov stopped his first shot, but Burns got the rebound and scored on his second try.
"Just a great play by Marty, great forecheck and good play to make that pass there," said Burns, who ended an 11-game goal drought. "I think when we forecheck well we can be a real fast team and start to smother teams. We started to do that. It was just guys wanting to do it and putting the puck in good places and going."
Pavelski tied it 4-4 at 8:29, planting himself in front of the Colorado net and jamming a rebound past Varlamov. From behind the net, Thornton passed the puck in front to Jason Demers, who fired a shot. Varlamov stopped that one, but not Pavelski's.
The Sharks had been booed off the ice after the second period, and Pavelski said the message hit home.
"I think guys kind of take that as we got to play better," he said. "It's kind of the bottom level for us. We started doing some stuff right, and they were right on our backs, cheering for us. You could feel the energy keep climbing in the building."
Just 25 seconds after Pavelski's goal, Sharks defenseman Justin Braun took a boarding penalty, and the Avalanche went on its third power play after connecting twice in the first period. This time, the Sharks' struggling penalty kill delivered.
"The PK hasn't been doing what we like," Burns said. "It was a big kill. It was good momentum."
Exactly three minutes after Pavelski's goal, the Sharks struck again, taking the lead on Couture's tip of Patrick Marleau's blast through traffic from the left circle.
"I don't know what to say. It was disappointing," Hejda said. "We need to win games like this against teams in our conference. There were just some big mistakes.
"Every time a team is down two, they play different. When they scored the fourth goal was probably the moment that decided the game."
McLellan juggled his lines yet again and had Marleau skating with Couture and Clowe. He liked what he saw.
"They used their toolsets real well," McLellan said. "I thought Patty sprinted to loose pucks and established a body position. Logan played Logan's game, and Clowie looked refreshed, looked excited about playing. A good combination.
"Everybody contributed," he said of his lines. "It was spread out, so that's a good sign. It looked to me as the game wore on the lines got more comfortable, so maybe we found something there."
Stastny had missed three straight games with a torso injury before returning Tuesday night against San Jose. He didn't have a point that night, but he had his first multi-goal game of the season Thursday and a season-high three points.
After trailing 2-1 at the first intermission, San Jose knotted the score just 1:12 into the second when Handzus took Havlat's pass from behind the net and beat Varlamov.
Colorado answered with two straight goals and took a 4-2 lead into the third period. Stastny ripped a shot from in front of the net past Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi at 3:01, putting the Avalanche up 3-2.
Midway through the period, Winnik and Clowe had a long, exhausting fight, but Winnik still had enough energy to score at 18:21, giving the Avs a two-goal lead. Forward David Van Der Gulik, who was called up Wednesday from Lake Erie of the AHL along with forward Evan Brophey, dug the puck out along the left boards and sent it to Stastny behind the net. Skating toward the left wall, Stastny zipped a pass in front to a wide-open Winnik, who scored easily.
Colorado came into the game with a power play ranked No. 1 on the road and No. 3 overall. The Sharks' penalty kill ranked last at home and 29th overall.
Sometimes the numbers don't lie.
The Avalanche built a 2-1 first-period lead, getting goals from Stastny and O'Reilly and going 2-for-2 on the power play.
San Jose struck first on a goal by Clowe at 2:30 of the first. Varlamov tried to pass the puck to Ryan O'Byrne in the left circle, but Couture cut in front and fired a quick shot. Varlamov stopped that one, but Clowe crashed the net and knocked home the rebound.
But with Marleau in the penalty box for holding, Stastny tied it on a power-play goal at 5:51. Stastny won a faceoff in the left circle and headed toward the crease, where he deflected Erik Johnson's long-range rocket past Niemi.
Colorado took a 2-1 lead with 31 seconds left in the period on O'Reilly's power-play goal with Burns in the box for high-sticking T.J. Galiardi. Stefan Elliott sent a blast from the high slot toward the net that Niemi blocked but couldn't control. O'Reilly, stationed just right of the crease, ripped home the rebound.
At that point, neither team knew what was to come. The Sharks only hope their third-period comeback marks the start of a turnaround.
"I hope," Thornton said. "It was a darn good period. Hopefully this gets us back on the right track, winning some games and getting a streak going."