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Harding's 37 saves lead Wild past Sharks

by Dan Myers

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Truth be told, the Minnesota Wild have played better games than the one they did Sunday against the San Jose Sharks. But the Wild got a clutch performance in goal from Josh Harding and two second-period goals in a 3-1 win at Xcel Energy Center.

Harding made 37 saves (including 21 in the second period) to win his 16th game of the season.

The loss was San Jose's third straight; the Sharks wrapped up their four-game road trip 1-3.

"They drive the net hard and make it hard on a goalie," Harding said. "With a team like that, that shoots everything, you're probably not going to make it look perfect."

Until the dying minutes of the game, however, Harding was just that. His 37 stops were a season-high as he improved to 16-4-3 this season. The wins total is tied for second-best in the NHL. He also lowered his goals against average to a League-best 1.50.

At home, Harding has been nearly unbeatable; he's 13-1-0 with a 1.25 GAA and a .945 save percentage at Xcel Energy Center this season.

"We did a great job defending tonight," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "We were really sharp in our own zone. Against the rush, we were clear and decisive, picking out the right guys, sorting things out.

"But we just did an awful lot of that. That's why it's hard to get shots if you're defending as much as we were tonight."

After a scoreless first period, the Sharks drew a hooking penalty on Minnesota forward Charlie Coyle at 1:12 of the second. But the Wild's penalty kill was able to hold the Sharks off the board and seconds after killing the penalty, the Wild went ahead 1-0 on Zach Parise's 13th of the season.

The play began in the Sharks zone, when Wild defenseman Marco Scandella's shot from the point deflected off Jason Pominville in front. The puck danced neatly to Parise on top of the crease, where he backhanded it into an open net at 3:55.

San Jose went 0-for-4 on the power play, an aspect Sharks coach Todd McLellan felt put his team at a clear disadvantage.

"The power play was awful," McLellan said. "I don't know if, in six years that I've been as disappointed with the power play as I am right now, and it's not even about me. I'm sure they're disappointed their power play. They are an elite group that has come out and been a threat for a long time. I'd like to see two or three guys take charge of it and let's get going, because right now they go out and it's killing the momentum that we gain."

Following Parise's goal, San Jose dominated the next few minutes, getting quality shots down low from Matt Nieto and Tomas Hertl and a blistering wrist shot by Joe Pavelski from the right circle that Harding sprawled to snare with his glove.

Shortly after Harding's highlight-reel robbery of Pavelski, Mikko Koivu's snipe from the slot beat Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi for his seventh of the season for what would amount to the game-winner.

"[Harding] is coming up big with big saves," said Wild forward Matt Cooke, a critical cog on Minnesota's penalty kill all night. "That keeps the game 1-0 and we go out and score another one. Those are important."

Koivu's goal was Minnesota's seventh shot on goal of the night. By the time the second period expired, San Jose had a 32-11 lead in shots. Entering Sunday, the Wild's previous high for shots allowed at home this season was 31.

Harding lost his bid for his fourth shutout of the season at 18:19 of the third, when Patrick Marleau gobbled up a rebound of a Matt Irwin shot and beat Harding with the extra-attacker for his 13th of the season. Niemi got to the bench again with over a minute left in regulation, but Parise added an empty netter with 5.9 seconds remaining.

"They're a tough team to play against," Parise said. "They do that overload in the D-zone. It makes it really, really hard to get anything going on the cycle. You gotta use your points a lot, go behind the net a lot and use corner to corner. Once that puck gets stuck in the corner, they have four guys in there and we have two, you can't do anything. We weren't able to sustain a lot of pressure."

Niemi made 10 saves and fell to 16-5-5. His six-game winning streak snapped Thursday by the Pittsburgh Penguins, Niemi has lost consecutive starts in regulation for the first time this season.

Defensively, the Sharks had a lot of success with their systems, limiting the Wild's ability to generate chances or sustain much pressure. Minnesota's 13 shots on goal were its fewest of the season. The Wild's previous low was 20 (three occasions).

"The two chances they had, they buried," Sharks captain Joe Thornton said. "That's the way it goes sometimes."

San Jose heads home for two games, including a rematch with the Wild on Thursday at SAP Center before heading back on the road for three games. Minnesota, winners of three of its past four games, kicks off a three-game road trip Wednesday at the Anaheim Ducks. The Wild will play seven of their next eight games on the road.

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