SAN JOSE – Once again, Benn Ferriero was in the right place at the right time Friday night for the San Jose Sharks – in front of the crease with the game on the line and the puck on his stick.
Ferriero took a pass from Brad Winchester and ripped what turned out to be his fourth game-winning goal of the season at 5:40 of the third period, putting them ahead to stay in what turned out to be a 5-3 victory against the Chicago Blackhawks at HP Pavilion.
The Sharks ended their two-game skid and sent the reeling Blackhawks to their seventh straight loss.
"At the end of the game, a lot of goals are scored within five, six feet of the paint," Ferriero said. "Not a lot of times where you're going to see very pretty passing plays and stuff like that, so you just got to go in there, get your nose dirty and bang away."
Justin Braun, Dan Boyle, Joe Thornton and Jamie McGinn also scored for the Sharks, and defenseman Brent Burns had three assists in a physical, hard-fought battle between two desperate teams. Marcus Kruger scored two goals and Bryan Bickell had one for Chicago, which lost its ninth straight road game -- including the first five of its current nine-game trip.
"We played hard tonight, we had fights, scratched and had some ugly goals," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "We played the way we had to. We gave them too many opportunities on the power play. It always seems like it's one thing or the other, but I think we're getting closer to playing a complete game."
Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi, a former Blackhawk, stopped 30 shots and improved to 5-2-1 against his former team. Chicago's Corey Crawford, back in the net after two games on the bench, had another tough night, stopping just 22 of 27 shots.
The Sharks took a 3-2 lead into the third period, but Bickell tied it 3-3 at 2:15, taking a pass in front from Dave Bolland and ripping a shot past Niemi.
San Jose went ahead to stay on Ferriero's goal. With 7:24 left to play, Sharks defenseman Douglas Murray took a hit to the head from Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw. The hit from behind sent Murray's head into the glass and earned Shaw a two-minute penalty. The Sharks made the Blackhawks pay when McGinn took a pass from Ryane Clowe and scored a power-play goal – San Jose's third of the night -- from close range, flipping the puck into the upper left corner of the net. That put the Sharks up by two with 5:56 left to play.
San Jose went 3-for-5 on the power play while the Blackhawks went 0-for-3 – they're 1-for-18 during their seven-game skid.
"We've been really focusing on our power play," McGinn said. "There was a stretch there where we were struggling. These past few games the puck's been going in for us. If we get power play opportunities against a team like Chicago, we have to score. That was the difference in the game, I think."
McGinn was actually a difference-maker before he scored his power-play goal. Just 22 seconds before Ferriero's goal, McGinn dropped the gloves and fought Bickell after Bickell made a hard check on Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic. The fight seemed to spark the Sharks, who had clearly lost the momentum.
"Yeah, that's in the back of my mind," McGinn said. "I didn't think we had a lot of jump there, so we needed something to spark us. We responded well with Ferriero's goal."
McGinn said he didn't actually see Bickell's hit on Vlasic.
"Some guys started to freak out a bit, and I know the crowd didn't like it too much," McGinn said. "So I just kind of went over to see what was going on, asked him to see if he wanted to go. It was kind of weird fighting Bickell because we were teammates when we played for the Ottawa 67's. He's a good friend of mine, so that was kind of different."
Both teams were trying to get back on track, especially on the defensive side. The Sharks had allowed nine goals in losses to Phoenix and Calgary. Chicago had allowed 27 goals in its previous six games, an average of 4.5 per game. But this turned out to be an offensive slugfest between teams that met in the Western Conference Finals two seasons ago, when Chicago won the Stanley Cup.
"It's beyond frustrating, but we're going to be better off having gone through this," said Blackhawks forward Jamal Mayers, a former Shark. "We're going through a tough stretch here. We knew that we needed to push back. We need to be more resilient."
The Sharks built a 2-0 lead in the first period on power-play goals by Braun and Boyle, who returned to the lineup after missing a game with the flu. Kruger answered with back-to-back even-strength goals in the second, jamming rebounds past Niemi both times, but Thornton's goal put the Sharks ahead 3-2 at 15:43 of the second.
"Both teams were desperate," Thornton said. "When we went up 2-0 you knew the game wasn't going to be over. They were going to come back and fight. Our penalty kill did a great job of killing some penalties when we needed to. Two desperate teams playing good hockey. It was a good hockey game to watch."
Kruger cut the lead to 2-1 at 6:55 of the second, beating Niemi after defenseman Nick Leddy's shot from the blue line hit the left post. Three minutes later, he made it 2-2 by ramming home a rebound after Niemi couldn't control defenseman Brent Seabrook's long shot.
The Sharks blew a chance to score on a 2-on-1 rush, but Thornton tracked down the puck to the left of the crease. When he tried to feed a pass to Joe Pavelski in the slot, Blackhawks rookie defenseman Dylan Olsen dove on the ice and got his stick on the puck, swatting it through Crawford's legs for a goal.
"I passed it and it goes in, so maybe I should pass more," joked Thornton, a pass-first center.
Olsen was recalled Friday from Rockford of the American Hockey League and was in the lineup, along with rarely used veteran defenseman Sami Lepisto. They replaced Steve Montador and Niklas Hjalmarsson, both out with upper-body injuries.
The Sharks outshot Chicago 12-7 in a penalty-filled first period, but the Blackhawks roared back and outshot San Jose 17-3 in the second but still trailed by a goal entering the third.
"Pretty disappointed and frustrated," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said of the loss. "But there were a lot of positives from today's game. We just want to make sure that we go in tomorrow and do well," he added, looking ahead to Saturday night's game at Phoenix.
The Sharks went on the power play just 58 seconds into the game when Blackhawks forward Michael Frolik high-sticked Pavelski, drawing blood and earning four minutes in the box for a double minor. A minute later, Braun scored his second goal of the season, giving the Sharks a 1-0 lead.
"When the puck drops, it just seems like it starts boiling over pretty quick," Braun said of playing the Blackhawks. "Fun games to be a part of."
Late in their second power play, with Frolik still in the box, Logan Couture knocked a rebound into the net, but the goal was waved off because of a goaltender's interference penalty against Sharks forward Patrick Marleau.
The Sharks killed off that penalty then went on their third power play of the first period at 11:09 after a major scrum in front of the benches. Thornton touched off the fracas, pushing Toews in the back then smacking him in the face. By the time it ended, Thornton and Clowe each got two minutes for roughing, while Chicago's Toews, Duncan Keith and Sean O'Donnell received two minutes apiece for the same infraction.
This time it took the Sharks 27 seconds to score a power-play goal, with Boyle sending a slap shot from the right circle off a rebound past Crawford.
Each team had three power plays in the first period, but the Sharks went 2-for-3 while the Blackhawks went 0-for-3. The Sharks drew six penalties and the Blackhawks five in a physical first period that saw one fight, Clowe against Mayers. It was Clowe's first fight since breaking a bone in his face Jan. 10 at Minnesota, an injury that cost him six games. For the first time in his four games back, he played without wearing a protective visor.
The Sharks now hit the road for a nine-game, 15-day trip that begins Sunday at St. Louis and ends Feb. 26 at Minnesota. They won't play at home again until Feb. 28 against Philadelphia.
Beating the Hawks will make the flight to St. Louis a little more pleasant.
"We'll feel good going into St. Louis and get a good flight," Thornton said. "It was big winning tonight just to grab some confidence before we go out on that nine-gamer. Big two points."