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Sharks edge slumping Flyers on Nieto's late goal

by Eric Gilmore

SAN JOSE -- San Jose Sharks forward Matt Nieto had gone 22 straight games without scoring before getting an empty-net goal Saturday in a victory against the Anaheim Ducks.

Nieto didn't have to wait long for his next goal. He scored again Tuesday, and this time his goal was a game-winner with 11.5 seconds left in the third period, lifting the Sharks to a 2-1 victory against the Philadelphia Flyers at SAP Center.

"Last game I got an empty-netter, and even though it didn't seem like much, it was huge confidence-wise," Nieto said. "You know, they come in bunches, and I've been patient all year, sticking to my game. I'm glad to see it's paying off the last two games."

Nieto set his game-winning play in motion by forcing Philadelphia's Brayden Schenn into a turnover in the neutral zone. Nieto sent the puck ahead to speedy Sharks forward Patrick Marleau, and Marleau sprinted toward Flyers goaltender Steve Mason on a breakaway.

Mason made a diving stop of Marleau's shot from close range, but he couldn't control the rebound. Then Philadelphia defenseman Braydon Coburn, who was racing back alongside San Jose's Tommy Wingels, made contact with Mason, knocking him outside of the crease.

Nieto swooped in and ripped the game-winner past a helpless Mason, who couldn't recover in time to stop the shot.

"They turned the puck over," Nieto said. "I tried to get the puck up ice. It was kind of bouncing around a little bit and [Marleau] was full steam away. He beat his D-man to the net. It was kind of a scramble, and when you're not scoring, the general rule of thumb is go to the net and good things will happen. I know I tried to get there as fast as I can, and luckily the puck bounced right for me."

The Shark have won consecutive games for the first time since defeating the Ducks on Oct. 26 and the Colorado Avalanche on Oct. 28; it's their third set of back-to-back wins.

"It's very important for us," Wingels said. "We haven't put ourselves in [position] to have these kinds of streaks this season, having consistent play. We'll be happy with two. This team has always been streaky. When we win a couple, streaks build on top of each other. This team can reel off five, six, seven, eight in a row. That's what we're going to try to do here."

Philadelphia has lost five in a row (0-4-1) and eight straight on the road. The Flyers are 1-8-1 in their past 10 games.

"It was probably one of the better games we've played all year," said Mason, who made 28 saves. "It's tough not to come out with at least a point. It was a turnover at the far blue line. I don't know if we overskated the puck or what. They got two or three whacks at it, and I was able to make the first save but was put in a position where I couldn't get back and make the second or third save. We just made a mistake at the wrong time."

Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi made 28 saves for the win, improving to 9-7-3.

Philadelphia center Sean Couturier scored in the first period, and San Jose defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic answered with a goal in the second.

Sharks center Logan Couture was injured on a collision with Flyers forward Michael Raffl 26 seconds into the third period and missed the rest of the game. Raffl's right shoulder made contact with Couture's chin. Couture hit the ice, got up slowly and skated off under his own power. He went to the locker room, where the Sharks medical staff began evaluating him for a concussion.

"He was checked out during the game," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "I saw him after. He looks OK, but he'll be re-evaluated in the morning. Anytime a player gets hit like that, there are protocols we are obligated to follow. And that's basically what he was doing in that situation, and it took up the time."

Raffl did not receive a penalty, and McLellan said he was fine with that, calling the hit "coincidental."

The Flyers outshot the Sharks 16-6 in the first period and took a 1-0 lead on Couturier's power-play goal at 6:00.

Couturier ripped a shot from the left circle that got under Niemi's right arm for his fifth goal. Scott Laughton and Andrew MacDonald, who returned to the lineup after he was benched Saturday against the New York Rangers, got the assists. It was the first NHL point for Laughton.

San Jose, which is known for its fast starts at home, had four shots in the first 6:43 of the game, then went the next 9:27 without a shot as Philadelphia dominated play in a physical first period. The Flyers had 12 hits to 11 for the Sharks and won 59 percent of the faceoffs.

The Flyers scored first in a road game for the first time this season; it was their 12th game away from Wells Fargo Center.

"I think we controlled the game and played one of our best games of the year," Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. "We had chemistry out there. The results won't show how we played. I think we are in a tough stretch right now. When things like this happen with 12 seconds to go, we have to stick together. We're all waiting to get out of this hole we're in right now."

The Flyers won't have to wait long for their next chance. They'll face Anaheim on Wednesday at Honda Center.

"I told the guys after the game, 'Get your heads up and get ready for tomorrow,'" Flyers coach Craig Berube said. "'There's nothing you can do about it now. We made a mistake at the end of the game and it cost us the game. We played a solid game.'"

San Jose pulled even with 2:16 left in the second period on Vlasic's third goal, which came on a 3-on-2 rush.

Couture zipped a pass to Wingels in the right circle, and Wingels sent a cross-ice pass, hitting Vlasic in stride, a step behind Giroux, and he sent a wrist shot past Mason.

Vlasic went to the locker room for about four minutes midway through the first period after blocking a pair of shots on the penalty kill, but he showed no signs of damage while racing past Giroux and scoring.

"I knew Giroux was behind me, so I knew I could jump up and beat him, and I did that," Vlasic said.

The Sharks outshot the Flyers 13-6 in the second period and outhit them 14-9.

Flyers forward Vincent Lecavalier was a healthy scratch for the first time in his career. He has 405 career goals, but has gone 12 straight games without a goal. Defenseman Michael Del Zotto was also a healthy scratch for Philadelphia.

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