SAN JOSE – For San Jose Sharks forward Ryane Clowe, change was a good thing Thursday night during the third round of a shootout against Nashville.
As he headed toward Predators goalie Pekka Rinne, Clowe planned to go to the backhand, his favorite shootout move.
"I tried forehand the last couple times," Clowe said. "When I went in on him I was thinking backhand. When I looked up, it looked like he was over on that side of the net. So I just kind of switched it up last minute, and it worked."
Clowe slipped a shot past Rinne and just inside the left post for the only goal in the tiebreaker, and when Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi stopped David Legwand, the desperate Sharks, fighting for their playoff lives, had a much-need 2-1 shootout win and two points.
Niemi stopped 32 shots and Rinne 34 as they put on a goaltending clinic for most of the night.
With the win, San Jose now has 80 points, one behind seventh-place Phoenix and eighth-place Colorado in the Western Conference playoff race. The Sharks also closed within three points of first-place Dallas in the Pacific Division.
The Sharks won for just the second time in their past eight games, beating one of the conference's top teams. Two of those losses came in shootouts and another in overtime.
"I think it's huge," Niemi said of the win. "We've been struggling lately. We've been outshooting teams before, and today we were able to keep them off the board after the first. We knew if did that we were going to score eventually, and that's what happened."
Patric Hornqvist scored Nashville's only goal, connecting on the power play in the first period. Joe Thornton answered with a power-play goal early in the third for San Jose.
With the point, Nashville now has 90 for the season, one behind fourth-place Detroit. The Predators have picked up points in 10 of their past 12 games.
"Pekka played real well," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. "You want to get the extra point. But you will take the point on the road."
Clowe has now scored four times in nine shootout attempts this season as he continues to show a knack for coming up big in those pressure-packed one-on-one battles.
"Clowie's an elite one," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "His numbers are very good. Just for a big man he has quick hands and knows what he wants to do."
Clowe said the night's shootout win offered the Sharks some relief and could signal the start of something bigger and better as they began a seven-game stretch that includes six at home.
"Especially when you get to that situation in a shootout or overtime when you've kind of been getting burned on the other end of that lately," Clowe said. "To be able to break through that and get the two points that way is probably even better. A little bit of relief. It's nice to know now we've got an opportunity to get something going."
San Jose's Patrick Marleau nearly ended it with 3:40 left in overtime, but Rinne got a pad on his blast from the left circle. With less than three minutes left in OT, Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle had a shot from point-blank range, but Rinne rejected that, too.
With 25 seconds left, Nashville's Craig Smith redirected a shot from in front of the net, but Niemi smothered it. Then with 3.9 seconds left, the Sharks went on a power play after Shea Weber was called for tripping. Marleau launched a shot from close range, but Rinne came up huge again to send the game to a shootout.
"They are a desperate team and they played like it," Predators forward Martin Erat said. "Always when you come to this building they put a lot of pressure on you. We defended well and we got a point from it. … In the third period, we got shots on both sides. Anyone could have won the game."
Niemi had allowed just over two goals per game in his past eight starts, but went 2-3-3 because the Sharks' offensive tank has been on empty. He had another gem against Nashville.
The Predators entered the final period leading 1-0 on the strength of Hornqvist's first-period power-play goal. But it took the Sharks just 55 seconds to get even on a goal by Thornton during a power play that carried over from the second. Boyle launched a shot from the point, and Marleau, stationed in front of the net, deflected the puck to Thornton, just to the right of the crease. He put it into an open net before Rinne could adjust.
"The first few periods we definitely had a lot of chances," Thornton said. "We didn't get too many in the third, but when we got one, we capitalized on it."
Rinne called it a "lucky" goal.
"It hit somebody's leg and it bounced right to the side of the net, and he had an empty net there," Rinne said.
Weber tested Niemi with a blast with just under eight minutes to play in regulation, but Niemi gloved it. With a minute left in regulation, Niemi withstood a flurry of Nashville shots, sending the game into overtime.
"Nemo made some big saves, but played a pretty solid game again tonight," Thornton said.
Rinne was on his game from the outset, stopping everything that came his way as the Sharks took the first six shots. The Sharks kept blasting away, but Rinne used his glove to prevent rebounds.
Sharks forward Martin Havlat returned to the lineup after missing 39 games with a hamstring injury that required surgery. Playing on the second line with Marleau and Clowe, Havlat had a handful of good scoring chances, but Rinne stopped them all.
"I thought he made a difference tonight," McLellan said of Havlat. "You could see his skill level and the difference that made for our second line. He had the puck a lot, went to it, managed himself well. He didn't get caught out tired. I think he's going to leave the rink feeling pretty good about his game."
The Sharks outshot Nashville 13-7 in the first period, but Hornqvist scored the period's only goal at 13:18.
Entering the game, the Predators' power play was tied for second in the NHL, and they quickly took advantage of a Sharks penalty kill that was tied for 26th. Hornqvist found open ice just left of the crease, behind defensemen Douglas Murray and Brent Burns. Mike Fisher hit the wide-open Hornqvist with a pass from the left circle, and Hornqvist jammed the puck past Niemi.