The sellout crowd at the Shark Tank cheered the 13 Olympians who took the ice on Tuesday -- especially their four gold medalists. For the rest of the night, there wasn't much for the home fans to be happy about.
The New Jersey Devils capitalized on a sloppy second period by San Jose to build a 4-0 lead, then survived a three-goal blitz by the Sharks for a 4-3 victory in the first game back after the Olympic break for both teams.
Ilya Kovalchuk capped a three-goal middle period with a late power-play goal and Travis Zajac's goal 5:44 into the third period put the Devils ahead 4-0.
"I thought probably for about 45 minutes, we played some of the best hockey we've played in a long time," said New Jersey forward Zach Parise, who drew an especially loud ovation during a first-period tribute to the Olympians on the ice in recognition of his tying goal in Sunday's gold-medal game. "We were controlling the puck really, well, the D was moving the puck really well."
But the Sharks suddenly found their game, getting two goals from Devin Setoguchi and one from U.S. Olympian Joe Pavelski in a 2:46 span to cut the four-goal margin to one with 8:28 still to play.
"We made a couple of mistakes they capitalized on," said Devils coach Jacques Lemaire, who called his timeout after Pavelski's goal. "After the timeout, the guys settled down and started to play the way we can."
Both goaltenders came into the game after struggling at the Olympics, and neither had a good night. San Jose's Evgeni Nabokov, routed in Russia's quarterfinal loss to Canada, allowed four goals on 21 shots. New Jersey's Martin Brodeur stopped 17 of 20 in his first appearance in nine days after surrendering four goals in Canada's 5-3 loss to Team USA in group play at the Games.
"We didn't get enough pucks to the net," Pavelski said. "That makes for an easy night for their goalie.
"We knew if we could get one, if we could get the building going a little bit more -- unfortunately, it was too late."
Aside from cheering the Olympians -- including San Jose gold medalists Joe Thornton, Dany Heatley, Patrick Marleau and Dan Boyle -- the sellout crowd had little to cheer about through two-plus periods in the Sharks' first home game in exactly a month.
The Devils broke through at 11:13 of the second when Patrick Elias' shot trickled past Nabokov and sat in the goal crease before Zubrus knocked it in for the first goal of the game. Mark Fraser beat Nabokov with a slap shot from the blue line that went through a screen just 35 seconds later to make it 2-0.
New Jersey added a third goal in the final minute of the period, just six seconds after Manny Malhotra was called for hooking Elias. The Devils won the ensuing faceoff and Kovalchuk beat Nabokov with a wrist shot for his 33rd goal of the season and second since joining the Devils following a trade from Atlanta last month.
Parise set up Zajac's wrister for what proved to be the game-winner.
The Devils remained atop the Atlantic Division and are second in the East with 79 points after winning their first visit to San Jose since Nov. 25, 2006.
"It felt really good for us to win the game and beat a really good team," Parise said.
The Sharks remained on top in the West only because Chicago lose on Long Island..
"We fought back," Boyle said. "But we're not happy with the way we played in the second period. That wasn't a very good period on our part. That's why we were down 3-0."
Material from team media and wire services was used in this report