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Sharks come up empty in loss to Predators

by Eric Gilmore

SAN JOSE -- When the puck dropped Saturday night at SAP Center, the San Jose Sharks needed a victory against the Nashville Predators to regain first place in the Pacific Division.

The Predators had other ideas.

Patric Hornqvist scored two goals during a three-goal outburst in the second period, goaltender Carter Hutton made 35 saves for his first career shutout and the Predators beat the Sharks 3-0 to sweep the three-game season series.

With 107 points, the Sharks (49-21-9) remained one behind the first-place Anaheim Ducks. The Sharks have three games remaining while the Ducks have five and own the tiebreaker. If the Sharks finish in second place, they'll open the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Los Angeles Kings.

The Predators did the Sharks a favor Friday night by beating the Ducks 5-2 at Honda Center, but San Jose couldn't take advantage against a Nashville team that was playing back-to-back games and will likely miss the postseason.

"It's a missed opportunity," Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle said. "Nashville went into [our] building and did their job. Unfortunately, we didn't do ours to take advantage of that."

Defenseman Roman Josi also scored for the Predators, who had only 24 shots.

The Predators (35-32-11) would have been eliminated from contention for the playoffs with a regulation loss, but instead won their third straight game. Nashville improved to 7-2-1 against San Jose since the beginning of the 2011-12 season.

"We're never going to give up," said Hornqvist, who also had an assist. "It's a long road to make the playoffs. But as long as we have a chance, we're going to work as hard as we can. Obviously beating two great teams is nice. I think both of them can win the Cup. It's a good statement for our team."

Hutton, a former Sharks prospect, beat San Jose for the second time this season; he made 36 saves in a 3-2 victory on Dec. 14 at Nashville in his first career start against San Jose. Hutton played 22 games in 2010-11 for the Worcester Sharks of the American Hockey League.

"I have a lot of friends here that I kind of came up with," Hutton said. "I lived with [Sharks forward Tommy] Wingels for a while. So we chirped at each other through the whole game. It was fun. It was nice to get the first [shutout]. It feels good to get a win."

Coming off a an emotional and physical 2-1 victory Thursday night against the playoff-bound Kings, the Sharks fell flat against the Predators.

"After the game we put together against L.A., to give a showing like that is unacceptable," Sharks defenseman Jason Demers said. "We didn't come out to work. We just sat back on our heels and let them take the game to us. It's disappointing and something we're going to obviously rectify as quick as possible here."

The loss to Nashville continued a painful trend for the Sharks, who don't play again until Wednesday against the Ducks at Honda Center. Of the Sharks' past eight losses, seven came against teams that likely won't make the playoffs -- the Winnipeg Jets, Calgary Flames, Washington Capitals, Florida Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes, Buffalo Sabres and Nashville.

"We've talked about that all year," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "It's Game 79. So we're running out of opportunities to play against teams that won't make the playoffs to fix that problem. So yeah, it's been a problem all year.

"Keep getting the same results. It's almost insanity."

After a scoreless first period, the Predators scored three unanswered goals in the second, the first two by Hornqvist and the third by Josi.

Hornqvist scored at 3:48 of the second, banging a rebound past Sharks goalie Antti Niemi from close range after Matt Cullen ripped a shot from the right circle.

Hornqvist struck again for his 20th goal of the season at 8:59, putting the Predators ahead 2-0. Nashville

forward Nick Spaling controlled the puck behind San Jose's net then fed a pass to in front to Hornqvist, who had position in front of the Sharks' Brent Burns. Hornqvist beat Niemi with a laser inside the right post.

"I can stand up here and use clichés or whatever, but we were emotionally not attached to the game in the second period," McLellan said. "We're at Game 79 and the details and the system play, you should be able to do it in your sleep at this point. We didn't do that. I thought after the power play didn't have success we slouched a little bit. Our body language wasn't very good and they took the game over at that point."

Josi made it 3-0 at 13:16 of the second period, scoring his 12th goal of the season. Josi controlled the puck along the left boards, powered toward the net and fired a shot that deflected off of Demers and past Niemi.

"A team plays last night, especially in Anaheim, we've got to take it to them," Demers said. "We've got to get pucks behind them and forecheck them and we just kind of sat back and played their game. When we're not playing our game we're not successful, and it showed tonight."

The Sharks outshot the Predators 9-5 in the first period and fired 15 more shots that were either blocked or off-target.

Sharks forward Joe Pavelski fired a rocket from the slot early in the period, but Hutton saw it all the way and made the save.

Nashville's best scoring chance came late in the period when Josi sent a cross-ice pass to Colin Wilson, who was planted near the crease in front of a nearly wide-open net. But Wilson couldn't make solid contact, and the puck sped past him.

That scoreless first period set the stage for Nashville's second-period scoring binge.

"We're peaking at the end of the year," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "Mainly we had to rebuild the program and it took a little longer than we expected. It's coming around. This team won't quit. It hasn't quit all year. It's not going to quit. They will play right until the end. We'll see when the smoke clears where we stand."

Predators defenseman Seth Jones and center Paul Gaustad returned to the lineup. Jones missed the past five games with a concussion and Gaustad the past seven with an upper-body injury.

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