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Desperate Sharks fend off Bruins for 2-1 win

by Eric Gilmore
SAN JOSEDaniel Winnik picked a great time to score his first goal since coming to the San Jose Sharks from Colorado in a deal at the trade deadline.

Winnik's blast from the left circle early in the third period Thursday night put San Jose ahead 2-0, and the Sharks held off the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins 2-1 at HP Pavilion.

Fighting for their playoff lives, the Sharks snapped a two-game losing streak and completed a two-game series sweep of the Bruins. The win gives the Sharks 84 points; they are 10th in the West but just one point out of the eighth and final playoff berth.

"It's huge," Winnik said of the win, which followed losses to Anaheim and Los Angeles earlier in the week. "They're obviously a Stanley Cup contender, one of the best teams in the East. The way they play, they play that kind of playoff style. Big bodies, very skilled up front. I thought we handled them well. We played very good team defense. I thought our team speed really showed tonight."

Joe Pavelski scored early in the first period for the Sharks. After Winnik scored at 2:17 of the third, Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara sliced the lead to 2-1 with 4:15 left to play, but the Sharks hung on for the victory.

Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi improved to 5-0-0 lifetime against Boston, stopping 16 of 17 shots. Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas made 25 saves.

Sharks coach Todd McLellan has been pushing for more goals from some "unusual suspects," players other than Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau and Pavelski. Winnik, who played on the fourth line Thursday, certainly qualifies. He hadn't scored a goal since Dec. 15 – for Colorado against the Sharks in San Jose.

"I've said it before. That's how it has to happen," McLellan said. "It can't be Patty and Pav and Cooch all the time. It has to be an unusual suspect that steps up, and it was great for Winny to score. It's been a long time since he scored. He should feel good about himself. Maybe we can get him going on a roll."

The Bruins came into the game after back-to-back wins, including an 8-0 rout of Toronto on Monday, after four straight losses. They left with their fourth consecutive road loss and missed a chance to extend their three-point lead over Ottawa in the Northeast Division.

"They set the pace early in the game and it took us a long, long time to catch up to it," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "We had a lot of players on the top lines looking sluggish. That makes it tough to generate anything. Even when we had the puck they came at us and took away our space. We were feeling pretty good about things going into the third period, but they get that early goal and it gave them life and confidence, and we dug ourselves more of a hole. It started with a turnover and it was a good shot. You can't blame Thomas for that one. He made several stops to keep us in the game."

The Sharks owned a 1-0 lead after two periods, and Winnik made it 2-0 with a slap shot from the left circle on a 3-on-2 rush. A turnover by Tyler Seguin ignited the rush, and fourth-line center Andrew Desjardins hit Winnik with a cross-ice pass. Winnik did the rest, beating Thomas top shelf to the far side.

"It felt great," Winnik said. "It had been obviously a really long time from when I had scored last. It was just a good rush overall. Desi made a great play, snapped it across. It was one of those plays I had to handle it for a sec and then shoot it. That was probably the only place I could shoot there. I know he's coming across. He'll be down. It was one of those hope it goes in.

"We can't rely on our top two lines to score every night. Our third and fourth have to start chipping in. That's what the better teams in the League do. We have guys on our third and fourth who can do that. It's just a matter of our team bearing down."

Boston got on the board when Chara raced in from the blue line to grab a loose puck, skated below the goal line to the right of Niemi and banked the puck off the goaltender and into the net for his 11th of the season. The goal came just seconds after Niemi withstood a wild rush by the Bruins but the Sharks were unable to get the puck out of their end.

"With a few minutes left I was falling off the play, but I saw the rebound come out after a few missed opportunities," Chara said. "I was looking for a pass but then I saw the goalie was basically on the ice and I tried to bounce it off the goalie and luckily it went in. You just try to bounce it off any part of the goalie you can and hope it takes a good bounce."

The Sharks jumped to a 1-0 lead on Pavelski's 27th goal of the season at 3:57 of the first period, as he ripped a rebound past Thomas. Sharks center Joe Thornton intercepted a pass in Boston's end and fired a hard shot that Thomas stopped, but the Sharks controlled the long rebound and kept the pressure on, getting the puck back to Thornton behind the net.

From there, Thornton fed a pass in front to Marleau, who unleashed a quick shot. Thomas stopped that one, but not Pavelski's shot from just right of the crease, who scored while the Bruins had their top defensive pair of Chara and Dennis Seidenberg on the ice.

After back-to-back lifeless games against the Ducks and Kings, the Sharks played with energy from the moment the puck dropped. The question now, McLellan said, is whether they can duplicate that effort Saturday against Phoenix and for the rest of the playoff race.

"That's  the million-dollar question," McLellan said. "One, they should feel good about themselves tonight. They didn't feel good coming back from L.A. They certainly didn't feel good going to L.A. the other day. So if they want to continue to feel that way they have to continue to perform the way they did tonight.

"I think the secret right now, to use that cliché again, is playing freely. Get rid of the attention and the stress. We know what we're up against. Now go play. I've seen that with this team before in the first round, year after year where that stress level goes up and guys get a little tense, they get a little bit slower. We get through that round and now we're free and we just start to play and we get better in the second and third rounds. Maybe that's what we're dealing with right now."

McLellan tinkered with his top two lines Thursday, hoping to spark more offense. Couture moved from left wing on the top line to center on the second line, swapping places with Marleau, who was reunited with Thornton and Pavelski. Couture rejoined Ryane Clowe and Martin Havlat.

The Sharks outshot Boston 8-5 in the first period and sent seven more shots at Thomas less than seven minutes into the second period. Thomas faced only 13 shots in Monday night's shutout of Toronto, but he had already faced 13 shots with 15:30 left in the second.

After facing five shots in the first, Niemi faced just four in the second. The Sharks controlled the puck for most of the first two periods, and when Boston went on the attack, Niemi's defensemen often kept the Bruins from getting the puck close to Niemi. San Jose blocked 11 shots in the first two periods and had 10 takeaways. Boston had six blocks and three takeaways to that point.

"I think we played a better game today," Niemi said. "We were faster. We didn't make too many mistakes. For sure, it was just way easier for me."

Sharks center Michal Handzus returned to the lineup after missing six games with a lower-body injury, and for forward Tommy Wingels (upper body) returned after missing five games. Forward TJ Galiardi (upper body) remained out.
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