Then the Sharks were reminded yet again that nothing comes easily in the powerful Pacific Division. Anaheim rallied to force overtime, and the Sharks finally prevailed 4-3 in a shootout.
Joe Pavelski scored in the second round of the shootout, lifting San Jose into sole possession of first place in the Pacific.
The Sharks (18-3-5) completed a perfect 5-0-0 homestand in which the final three wins came against Western Conference powers -- the Los Angeles Kings, the St. Louis Blues and Anaheim (18-7-4). The Sharks beat the Kings 3-2 in a shootout that went eight rounds, then needed another shootout to beat Anaheim.
The Sharks have 41 points, one more than the Ducks, as they prepare for a four-game road trip that begins Tuesday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
After Saturday's game, Sharks coach Todd McLellan was asked again about the challenge of playing in the Pacific and the tightly packed Western Conference.
"It's the division, it's the conference," McLellan said. "It's that close. It's got to be exciting for hockey fans all over because there really isn't anybody that's pulling away or a clear-cut favorite, and some really important hard-fought games at this time of year."
Pavelski gave Sharks fans a thrill on Saturday night. Opening the second round, Pavelski skated in hard, came to a quick stop then wristed a shot past Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller, just inside the right post. When Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi stopped Corey Perry in the second round and Kyle Palmieri in the third, San Jose had its hard-fought victory.
Pavelski's shootout goal was reviewed and ruled to be good.
"It's not a vague rule, but it's a weird rule," Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said. "You are allowed to stop, but the puck is not allowed to stop. He came to a dead stop, but they OK'd it in Toronto, and they get to watch it on replay, so I guess the puck didn't stop it's forward motion."
Pavelski watched replays of his goal after the game.
"I don't know that it's even that close," he said. "You stop, and you're moving, you're just moving slow. It is what it is, I'm glad I scored."
The Sharks weren't happy about losing their two-goal lead in the third, but that didn't take away much from their perfect homestand and victories against three heavyweights from the West.
"I'm glad we got the win," McLellan said. "Of course we didn't want to give up the lead, but considering it's three [games] in four against that type of competition, a heavy group. We won't let our guys off the hook, but to get those three wins are pretty satisfying."
Perry scored in the first period for Anaheim. Defensemen Alex Grant, making his NHL debut, and Ben Lovejoy scored in the third for Anaheim to send the game past regulation and assure the Ducks of at least a point.
"Getting the win would have made it a little bit sweeter, but it's nice to contribute a little bit and get that one point," Grant said of his first career NHL goal. "That was big."
The Sharks went on a power play at 1:26 of OT when Perry went to the box for holding Couture. But the Sharks didn't get a shot on goal during that power play and finished the night 0-fo-5 with the man advantage. The Ducks had a power play for the final 31.4 seconds of overtime with Jason Demers in the box for holding Sami Vatanen, but they came up empty and finished 0-for-3.
Niemi made 28 saves in the first meeting this season between San Jose and Anaheim. Hiller made 32 saves.
After Perry gave the Ducks a 1-0 lead in the first period, the Sharks roared back to score three times in the second.
The Sharks pulled even on Couture's ninth goal of the season at 4:16. Marc-Edouard Vlasic ripped a shot from above the left circle and Couture tipped it past Hiller from close range, snapping his seven-game goalless streak.
San Jose took advantage of a huge mistake by Hiller to take a 2-1 lead at 10:02 on Marleau's shorthanded goal.
Hiller skated far out of the crease to his right to get a slow-moving puck that the Sharks had cleared, even though two Ducks were in pursuit. Hiller's pass intended for defenseman Cam Fowler in the slot was off-target, and Marleau picked it off. Marleau passed the puck left to Joe Thornton, got it back and put it into a wide-open net before Hiller could recover.
Marleau said he was "a little bit" surprised to see Hiller come so far out of the crease.
"But we were lucky to be able to pounce on it and get one right there," Marleau said. "I thought Jumbo was going to put it in the empty net, but being the passer he is, he gave it back to me. I'm glad."
Hiller said he's not sure what went wrong when he passed the puck.
"I don't know if I missed it or the puck just jumped when I went to play it," he said. "It's a tough one, but I feel like it didn't bother us too much. It was a great effort to come back in the third."
Havlat increased the Sharks' lead to 3-1 with 57 seconds left in the period. Scott Hannan rifled a shot from the left circle into heavy traffic, and forward Mike Brown, planted in front of the net, knocked the puck loose into the low slot. Havlat knifed in and beat Hiller with a backhand shot from 12 feet.
Even though the Ducks were trailing by two goals, Boudreau was confident they would rally in the third period.
"We said in between periods if we get one we'll get two," Boudreau said. "When Alex Grant scored I thought there was a real good chance we were going to tie it, and then I thought we were even going to win it, even in regulation, because the adrenaline was flowing pretty well."
Grant cut the Sharks' lead to 3-2 at 12:50 of the third, hammering a shot from the left point that deflected off of Niemi's chest then bounced over his shoulder and over the goal line. With 3:06 left in regulation, Lovejoy ripped a shot from above the left circle that went through traffic and past Niemi to tie the score.
The Ducks were outshot 12-8 in the first period, but Perry scored the only goal at 5:56. Dustin Penner sent an outlet pass to Ryan Getzlaf, who quickly sent the puck ahead to Perry near the blue line. Perry raced in and wristed a shot that went over Niemi's glove and inside the right post.
The goal was Perry's team-leading 15th, while Getzlaf got his team-high 18th assist and Penner his 12th assist.
The Sharks got a scare early in the first when Thornton was hit in the face with a puck that was deflected by linemate Tomas Hertl near the Ducks' crease. Thornton immediately went to the dressing room, but he was back on the ice at 10:26 of the first. He had a swollen left eye, stitches above that eye and a cut on the side of his nose.
Thornton played most of the game with fuzzy vision in his left eye.
"There's a lot of blood in there and it's a little cloudy but hopefully it goes away a little bit tonight," Thornton said. "We'll put some ice on it and get ready for practice tomorrow."
The Ducks played without four of their top six defensemen due to injuries. Francois Beauchemin, Luca Sbisa and Sheldon Souray are on injured reserve, and Bryan Allen missed his third straight game with a lower-body injury.
Former Shark forward Teemu Selanne, who has 96 points in 89 career games against San Jose, was not in the lineup and didn't travel with the team to San Jose. Selanne, who turned 43 on July 3, has been getting the second night of back-to-back games off in an attempt to keep him fresh.
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