TORONTO -- Patrick Marleau scored both goals for San Jose as the Sharks snapped a four-game slide by beating the Toronto Maple Leafs 2-1 on Thursday night.
The 32-year old, who has spent his entire career with the Sharks scored twice in the second period, staking the Sharks to a lead they would not relinquish. Marleau now has 25 goals on the season, the ninth time in his career he has reached that plateau.
The Maple Leafs trailed 2-0 after two periods but halved the deficit at 3:53 of the third when rookie defenseman Jake Gardiner took a pass from Phil Kessel just inside the Sharks blue line and with a little bit of room was able to skate into a shot that beat a screened Antti Niemi.
The assist was Kessel's 65th point of the season, a career high.
The goal came just under a minute after a spirited fight between Mike Brown and Jim Vandermeer that saw the two tough-guys exchange a series of blows. The fight seemed to spark Toronto, which played its best hockey in the final 15 minutes but couldn't beat Niemi again. Niemi finished with 29 saves in a solid effort two nights after he was hooked following a four-goal first period by the Blue Jackets in Columbus.
The win keeps the Sharks on top of the Pacific Division with 71 points. Toronto entered the night with 65 points and a tenuous hold on the last playoff berth in the East.
Marleau broke a scoreless deadlock 32 seconds into the second period with a quick shot that handcuffed James Reimer. Marleau had the puck on his stick for a split second before firing it from the faceoff circle to the right of the Leafs net for his 24th of the season. Captain Joe Thornton and Tommy Wingels assisted on the play.
Marleau made it 2-0 moments after Toronto defenseman Luke Schenn went to the box for interference at 10:27. Marleau, who was lurking behind the defense close to Reimer, was able to deflect Logan Couture’s low shot into the net.
Toronto had several chances to get on the board in the second period but was unable to beat Niemi.
Joey Crabb had a shorthanded opportunity after Jason Demers broke his stick trying to take a shot at the Toronto blue line. Crabb corralled the puck and broke into the Sharks zone where Niemi came out to play the angle. Crabb’s low shot beat Niemi but trickled past the far post.
Later, Clarke MacArthur rushed into the Sharks territory and fired a quick shot from 20 feet through traffic. Niemi got his left pad on it and then sprawled out arms-first to thwart the rebound.
Reimer, who finished with 23 saves, faced only seven shots in the first period while Niemi was involved in a scary moment when he was flattened in the crease by MacArthur who was racing to negate and icing call. MacArthur lost an edge and went full-bore into the Sharks goalie, knocking him backwards and unhinging the net. Both players got up after several nervous seconds.
Niemi showed no ill effects and later made one of his five saves in the opening period on Carl Gunnarsson who charged in from the point and let a low shot go to the far side but was denied.