SAN JOSE – The San Jose Sharks are finally streaking in the right direction again, thanks to Martin Havlat.
In just his second game back since undergoing hamstring surgery in December, Havlat scored a pair of goals -- including the game-winner at 3:23 of overtime -- lifting the Sharks to a 3-2 win Saturday night against the Detroit Red Wings at HP Pavilion.
The Sharks won back-to-back games for the first time since their three-game streak from Jan. 24 to Feb. 2 and moved into eighth place in the Western Conference playoff race. With 82 points, they're just one behind Dallas and Colorado in the Pacific Division.
During their recent offensive struggles, the Sharks kept saying not to judge them until Havlat returned.
"You can begin passing judgment," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "He's such an important part of our hockey club. And I don't even think we realize yet how much of an impact he can have. He worked very hard when he was hurt. I think we were all anxious to get him back. He's played two very good games. Now the key is, the emotional part of returning, he's got to maintain that level, and I'm pretty confident he can do it."
Joe Pavelski scored San Jose's other goal, as the Sharks sent the battered Red Wings to their fourth straight defeat and wrapped up the season series, 3-1. Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi made 26 saves and improved to 8-2-1 lifetime against the Red Wings.
Pavel Datsyuk, in his first game back since undergoing knee surgery on Feb. 21, scored for the Red Wings in the fourth and final game of their winless road trip. Valterri Filppula also scored for Detroit, and Jimmy Howard stopped 32 of 35 shots.
On his game-winner, Havlat got to a rebound in front of the Red Wings' crease and flipped the puck past Howard.
"I didn't know it was going to be like this," Havlat said of his return. "I feel a little better (tonight). The first night I was dying in the middle of the game. Not tonight. It's not how I do right now. We just have to win games as a team. It doesn't matter who scores the goals. We needed two points and we got them."
The Sharks jumped to a 2-0 lead on goals by Pavelski and Havlat, but Datsyuk cut the margin to one with a goal late in the first period.
"It was a better effort tonight, but not the start we wanted," Red Wings defenseman Brad Stuart said. "We found a way to get back into the game and get it to overtime. We still have to get better. It's hard to feel good about a game you don't win, but we can take some positives out of it."
After a scoreless second period, Filppula tied it 2-2, ripping a shot past Niemi from the left circle at 8:12 of the third. Moments earlier, Sharks forward Dominic Moore lost his stick and raced to get off the ice, but Filppula struck before the Sharks could readjust.
McLellan thought the Red Wings got away with an interference penalty that led to the goal, but his team rallied to win its second straight game, two days after beating Nashville 2-1 in a shootout.
"Back-to-back is nice, but it's going to take three, four, five, six sometimes to get it done, and we're just starting," McLellan said.
Pavelski scored just 48 seconds into the game, knocking his own rebound from close range past Howard for his 25th goal of the season, tying his career high. The Sharks scored in the opening two minutes for the third time in their past four games, gaining seven points during that stretch.
"It gets the crowd into it, obviously," Pavelski said. "(It) gets the guys into it and establishes our game. We know we're ready and we know we can play with them all night. If you score early you definitely have a little extra jump."
Havlat, who missed 39 while recovering from a hamstring injury and surgery, scored at 18:23 of the first. Sharks forward Patrick Marleau came up with the puck along the boards in the neutral zone and hit a streaking Havlat, who had only defenseman Brad Stuart between him and Howard. He launched a 37-foot wrist shot from the slot that got past Stuart and Howard.
"He's a very dynamic top-end forward," Sharks captain Joe Thornton said of Havlat. "I think once he went down, we definitely missed him for 35 or 40 games. I didn't think he would make this big of an impact after just two games. You never know how his conditioning or timing is, but he just looks fabulous out there."
Datsyuk answered with a spectacular goal just 23 seconds later. After changing directions and shaking free from Thornton, Datsyuk flipped a sharp-angled shot from the left circle through traffic, over Niemi's shoulder and into the net.
"He looked like a player who has been out, but you know he's going to get better," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "That was a big deal for us to have him out there and give us some swagger."
The Red Wings came into the game with an 0-for-28 streak on the power play and went 0-for-2 against the Sharks, but they came an inch away from busting that slump early in the second period. With Tomas Holmstrom screening Niemi, former Sharks defenseman Ian White ripped a shot from high in the left circle that hit the right post and bounced back. Defenseman Douglas Murray cleared the puck away.
Datsyuk returned to the lineup for the first time since Feb. 19 – a 3-2 win over San Jose at Joe Louis Arena – and just 25 days after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. He missed 11 games, and the Red Wings went 3-7-1 during that stretch.
The Red Wings, though, were without two of their best players, forward Johan Franzen and captain Nicklas Lidstrom, both out with injuries. Franzen, Detroit's leading goal scorer with 26, missed the game with back spasms, ending his streak of 71 straight appearances this season. Lidstrom, a seven-time Norris Trophy winner, missed his eighth straight game after getting hit in his right ankle with a puck on Feb. 25 and suffering a deep bone bruise.
Even without two of their biggest stars, the Red Wings salvaged a point and nearly got two. With 92 points, they remained in fourth place in the West, two points ahead of Nashville.
"We're a work in progress, but it was a step in the right direction, and we need to take another step," Babcock said.