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Sharks make it two in a row with win at Phoenix

by Jerry Brown
GLENDALE, Ariz. – He played in his 1,000th game. He scored a goal. His team won. And his father, sitting with a group of San Jose dads who made the trip to Arizona, was leading the cheers.

All in all, not a bad Monday afternoon for Patrick Marleau – or the Sharks.

The third-youngest player in League history to reach 1,000 games – and the youngest to do it with one team – Marleau celebrated with a first-period goal with proud papa Denis looking on as the Sharks cooled off the red-hot Phoenix Coyotes with a 4-2 victory at Arena.

San Jose goalie Antti Niemi shook off a shaky first period had a great final 40 minutes, and finished with 34 saves while Dany Heatley, Logan Couture and Joe Thornton each produced a goal and an assist as the Sharks won their second straight following a six-game losing streak that knocked them out of a Western Conference playoff spot.

But the story was the 31-year-old Marleau, who might have been the youngest player ever to reach 1,000 games if not for the 2004-05 work stoppage.

"Getting the win, getting a goal and having the dads in town made it even more special," Marleau said. "It goes by quick, the 1,000 games. You start thinking about all the people who helped you along the way, all the support. I look forward to many more games in the League, but I've had a lot of help to this point."

He got a little help on his first-period goal as well. Shooting from a sharp angle at the bottom of the left circle, the puck hit the far post before bouncing back, catching Phoenix goalie Ilya Bryzgalov's skate and sliding just over the line for his 338th career goal.

"To reach (1,000 games) at such a young age is such a credit to him and our players were really excited to play this one with Patty today," San Jose coach Todd McLellan said. "He did a lot tonight – power play, penalty kill and even strength – and he set the tone for our team."

Derek Morris also scored for the Coyotes, who came into the game without a regulation loss in January (6-0-2) and were riding a four-game winning streak in which they had scored 19 goals. They didn't go away in this one either, pulling within a goal at 3-2 when rookie defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson beat Niemi with 7:59 left in regulation for his first NHL goal.

The Coyotes kept coming, but Niemi made several big saves, including one on Radim Vrbata with 1:02 left before Thornton iced the game with an unassisted, empty-net goal with 48.5 seconds left to give the Sharks their sixth straight win over the Coyotes – two of them this season.

"It comes and goes, prior to (the recent streak) we kind of owned them," Phoenix captain Shane Doan said. "Obviously, we play them a few more times this year and we have to find ways to beat them. There were a couple of goals you kind of want back, but they buried their chances and we didn't buy ours."

Phoenix has just two goals in its last 34 power-play chances and failed on four more chances Monday as Niemi made save after save on Coyotes' scoring bids. His biggest came against Ray Whitney and Eric Belanger, when the Sharks killed off a high sticking double-minor to Heatley in the second period.

"They've got lots of talent over there and they're a good team," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "We knew it was going to be close and competitive and we came up a little short."

Niemi was especially good with the game tied 1-1 in the second, stopping all 12 Phoenix shots while the Sharks' stars scored twice with to put the Coyotes on their heels.

The Sharks caught the Coyotes on a line change at 4:03, with Thornton and Couture sending Heatley in unmarked. He deked Bryzgalov and slid in his 18th goal and third in the last two games on the backhand.  Then in the waning moments of the period, the Sharks turned a David Schlemko cross-checking penalty into a pretty tic-tac-toe, power-play goal, with Heatley and Dan Boyle setting Couture up for the easy put-away at 17:19 to give San Jose some breathing room.

"If you're best players aren't your best players, you probably don't have a chance to win most nights," Thornton said. "We've been doing a better job lately of showing up every night. Patty had a great game, Logan had a great game, Dany had a great game and Boiler (Boyle) had a great game and Nemo (Niemi) played fantastic. So that's a good sign."

Already playing without defensemen Ed Jovanovski (lower body) and Michal Rozsival (abdominal muscle), the Coyotes lost a third defenseman when Schlemko was injured in a collision with San Jose's Scott Nichol early in the third period and did not return. Phoenix faces Nashville at home Tuesday night and might need an emergency call-up if all three rearguards can't play.

San Jose played without winger Ryane Clowe (lower body) and Benn Ferriero (lower body). The Coyotes placed center Vernon Fiddler, who injured his shoulder in a fight Saturday night, on injured reserve and he will miss at least two weeks. The Coyotes called up winger Brett MacLean from AHL San Antonio to fill the roster spot.
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