After dropping the first three meetings against the Anaheim Ducks this season, the Sharks approached Wednesday's game as a huge challenge and almost embraced an underdog role. The result was a 3-1 victory that put them back in the Pacific Division lead with 46 points -- moving them from ninth in the West to third in one night.
San Jose is 6-1-1 in its last eight games, including three points earned in a home-and-home series with Vancouver, and rightly back among the NHL's elite after a mid-December slump.
A two-goal outburst in a 27-second span in the second period gave the Sharks the lead, and Antti Niemi survived a late push by Anaheim.
The Sharks no longer have to answer why they haven't beaten the second-worst team in the NHL.
"You guys have been beating us for the last couple of days," captain Joe Thornton told reporters. "It's nice to beat them down here."
Former Duck Brad Winchester ripped a wrist shot from the left circle that beat Jonas Hiller blocker side and went in off the right post to tie it at 1 at 16:23. With the Honda Center crowd still stunned, Benn Ferriero dove to chip in Logan Couture's rebound from the crease at 16:50.
It was a breakthrough considering Jonas Hiller had shut down San Jose in two earlier meetings and was 5-0-0 in his past six games against the Sharks.
"We realized it's very, very difficult to score on this guy," Thornton said. "That first one by him got us some confidence. I don't know if it was 30 seconds after but we bang another one in. Huge momentum swing for us."
San Jose coach Todd McLellan put Jamie McGinn on Winchester's line, and it paid off when McGinn made a nice pass to set up Winchester's fourth goal.
Joe Pavelski easily finished off Thornton's silver-platter rebound for an insurance goal with 7:15 left in regulation.
McLellan was delighted with Thornton's strong two-way game.
"I thought Jumbo skated tonight," McLellan said. "I thought he had his legs going. We didn't see the turnovers that we've seen over the last little bit. That's because he had his legs moving: shot the puck, created a goal, smart defensively on the penalty kill, good stick. That's the type of game he needs to play."
Anaheim played a fine third period in which it hit two posts, but the two quick goals late in the second were a crusher for a team that already lacks confidence.
"There's just no resiliency," forward Bobby Ryan said. "When they get the first one, obviously you get down, but that shift that follows up has to be the best shift of the game. It has to be the hardest working to not let the momentum swing in their direction. We went out and got outplayed in the shift after … It just continues to keep happening."
Three of Anaheim's 10 victories are against San Jose, but whatever that special knack has been replaced by another round of speculation.
The Ducks have not improved under coach Bruce Boudreau, who fell to 3-9-2 since he took over on Nov. 30. General manager Bob Murray told The Orange County Register and Los Angeles Times before Wednesday's game that he hasn't conceded the season and isn't looking to rebuild. But aide from Corey Perry's 15th goal and a hard-played third period, the Ducks didn't provide him with much of an argument -- they had only 11 shots through two periods, and fell to 0-for-17 on the power play in their last five games.
Boudreau was exasperated by the response after Winchester's goal.
"It's happened a lot to this group," he said. "Before they went on after (San Jose) scored, the first thing I said was 'This is the shift because they will push on this shift.' They did and we didn't meet their push. They scored the goal and it's what got me so mad behind the bench."
Anaheim got the start it sought, though, when it killed a power play in the first three minutes of the game and then took a 1-0 lead. Fifteen seconds after Andrew Cogliano's holding penalty expired, Cogliano stole Patrick Marleau's clearing attempt off the boards and found Perry, who backhanded a shot past Niemi.
Anaheim was outshot 12-3 in the first period and failed to register a shot during a double-minor high-sticking penalty by Winchester that poured into the second period.
There was a dangerous-looking play with 2:30 to go when Ryan boarded Jason Demers.
Demers said he was OK and didn't think it was an illegal play. McLellan said he hadn't seen a replay.
"If you look the video, for sure, it looks like (dirty), but I don't think that was his intention," Demers said.
Jason Blake returned to action for the first time since he suffered a serious laceration on his forearm when San Jose's Brent Burns accidentally stepped on him on Oct. 14.
The son of former Ducks defenseman Ruslan Salei, Aleksandro, received big cheers when he was introduced as one of the youth hockey players that joined Ducks players on ice for the national anthem. Salei died in a plane crash in September, along with other members of KHL's Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team.
1 - 0 ANA
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 SJS
3 - 1 SJS
Hi stick - double minor