Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Rob Blake scored rare goals in the second period and the Sharks beat playoff nemesis Anaheim for the fifth straight time this season with a 3-1 victory Thursday night.
"Without him in the lineup we have to step up offensively," Vlasic said. "I thought the d-men did a great job stepping up. The new pairings did very well, all six of us. We did a great job of moving the puck, joining the rush and creating some offense."
Patrick Marleau assisted on the first two goals and added an empty-netter for his NHL-leading 35th of the season. The Sharks have won four straight and 15 of 18 games to remain two points ahead of Chicago for the most in the NHL.
San Jose has won all five meetings against Anaheim this season after having its brilliant 2008-09 season ruined by the Ducks in the playoffs. The Sharks won their first Presidents' Trophy in team history after winning 53 regular-season games and earning a franchise-record 117 points last season. But they were knocked out in six games by the eighth-seeded Ducks in their latest postseason disappointment.
Evgeni Nabokov was outplayed by Jonas Hiller in that series and then challenged by the organization to step up his game this season. He has done that of late, allowing just six goals in his past six games and winning all five games against Anaheim.
"He's seeing the puck and more than anything not giving up a lot of second chances," coach Todd McLellan said. "He's able to smother any rebounds and our defenseman are doing a pretty good job clearing the net in front of him."
Matt Beleskey scored early in the third period for the Ducks, who opened their season-high, six-game trip with a loss.
Anaheim, which had won seven of eight, had a chance to tie the game late after Joe Thornton was called for tripping in the offensive zone with 3:10 remaining. But the Sharks were able to kill off the power play, including the final 35 seconds after Hiller had been pulled for an extra skater. The Ducks went 0-for-5 on the power play.
"The big difference in the game was that our power play has to be a little bit better than that," center Ryan Getzlaf said. "We have to be able to make it when we have that man advantage. That was pretty much the difference in the game tonight. We had our chances and it's not for a lack of effort or execution. It's a matter of getting them into the net and past them."
Vlasic scored his first goal since Nov. 1 on the power play early in the second period to open the scoring. Blake then capped off a scintillating end-to-end play with his fourth goal of the season late in the second. Blake got the Sharks started out of their own zone with a pass to Marleau.
Thornton did a good job of staying onside while corralling Marleau's cross-ice pass, then threaded a perfect centering pass to a hard-charging Blake, who tipped the puck past Hiller for his second goal of the week.
"Pretty amazing," Blake said of the pass. "Honestly I didn't see it until it hit my stick. They always talk about go to the net with your stick down. When you have players as good as that or as crisp as finding things, that will happen."
The teams were scoreless after a physical first period in which there were two fights and four other penalties. Thornton got called for interference just 10 seconds into the game and the penalties kept coming. San Jose's Ryane Clowe squared off with George Parros in the first fight and Brad Staubitz went after Anaheim's Nick Boynton in the second.
The period ended with San Jose on the power play after Troy Bodie got called for a four-minute high-sticking penalty with 1:08 left in the first. The Sharks converted when Vlasic took the puck off a faceoff win by Marleau and flipped it over Hiller's left shoulder for his third goal of the season.
"We were much closer in the game and the difference was that we made a mistake and they score a power play goal off a faceoff," Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said. "We have all but 8 seconds of it killed and we reacted poorly on the one draw by them."
NOTES: Blake tied Sharks GM Doug Wilson for 10th place in career goals by a defenseman with 237. ... Hiller is 1-8 in the regular season against the Sharks, but had two shutouts in winning the playoff series against San Jose last season. ... Sharks trainer Ray Tufts missed the game because of the birth of his first child, Henry.
|PPG - Marc-Edouard Vlasic (3) ASST: Patrick Marleau (21)|
1 - 0 SJS
|Rob Blake (4) ASST: Joe Thornton (52), Patrick Marleau (22)|
2 - 0 SJS
|Matt Beleskey (5) ASST: Kyle Chipchura (2), Scott Niedermayer (25)|
2 - 1 SJS
|EN - Patrick Marleau (35) ASST: Joe Thornton (53)|
3 - 1 SJS
|Joe Thornton Interference against Corey Perry|
|Matt Beleskey Slashing against Jed Ortmeyer|
|George Parros Fighting (maj) against Ryane Clowe|
|Ryane Clowe Fighting (maj) against George Parros|
|Brad Staubitz Interference on goalkeeper against Jonas Hiller|
|Brad Staubitz Fighting (maj) against Nick Boynton|
|Nick Boynton Fighting (maj) against Brad Staubitz|
|Troy Bodie Hi stick - double minor against Manny Malhotra|
|Dany Heatley Hi-sticking against Matt Beleskey|
|James Wisniewski Hooking against Dany Heatley|
|Corey Perry Hooking against Patrick Marleau|
|Scott Niedermayer Holding against Joe Thornton|
|Jed Ortmeyer Delaying Game-Puck over glass|
|Joe Thornton Tripping against Ryan Getzlaf|