Don't look now, but the San Jose Sharks have found their game.
The Sharks made it five wins in a row by rallying from a two-goal deficit for a 3-2 victory at Columbus on Wednesday night. Patrick Marleau broke a 2-2 tie by beating Steve Mason from a sharp angle with 4:51 remaining in regulation, giving the Sharks a 9-0-1 mark in their last 10 games.
Joe Pavelski dug the puck off the back wall and passed to Marleau, who flipped the puck at goalie Mason from a couple of feet away from the goal line on the left wing. Pavelski helped distract Mason as the puck slipped into the net, capping San Jose's comeback from an early 2-0 deficit.
"This wasn't the plan by any means," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "The first period we weren't alert, we didn't have our legs underneath us and we weren't very competitive. To come back was a nice thing. Our goaltender had a huge part in that."
Kent Huskins and Kyle Wellwood also scored for the Sharks, and Antti Niemi made 42 saves. The Blue Jackets had applied most of the pressure in the third period before Marleau's goal, outshooting the Sharks 16-9 in the period and 44-32 overall.
Less than three weeks ago, the Sharks were outside the top eight in the West and looked nothing like the team that finished first in the conference in each of the last two seasons. Now they are 4-0-0 on a seven-game road trip and have pulled even with Dallas for first place in the Pacific Division. Both teams have 66 points, though Dallas has a game in hand.
This win wasn't a thing of beauty, but the Sharks were looking for standings points, not quality points.
"As (assistant coach) Trent Yawney said, 'A win is a win right now.' Beggars can't be choosers and we'll take it," McLellan said. "Some areas that we are not happy with, but we will see what we can do at practice tomorrow and move on."
The loss ended the Jackets' three-game winning streak and damaged their playoff hopes. The Blue Jackets are now six points out of eighth place in the Western Conference.
"It was a tough one," Columbus captain Rick Nash said. "We had a great first (period) and then sat back after that and lost on a tough goal. We had a lot of energy in the first. In the second period they seemed to take it to us and take over the game."
San Jose came into the game off back-to-back shutouts at Boston on Saturday and Washington on Tuesday, but saw their shutout streak end when Kristian Huselius scored on a power play 9:35 into the game and Grant Clitsome connected during another man advantage at 19:51 -- a big night for a power play that came into the game on a 0-for-13 slide.
But after the Blue Jackets controlled the opening period, the Sharks dominated the second.
They cut the lead to 2-1 at 1:56 when Huskins scored his first of the season -- in his 45th game -- with a seemingly harmless shot from the left point. Mason was screened by defenseman Kris Russell and never saw the shot, which may have been deflected.
The Sharks failed to convert on two power plays before tying the game at 13:39 when Logan Couture's centering pass from the left of the net deflected off Ryane Clowe's skate. The puck bounced to Wellwood near the right hash and he punched it in for his second of the season.
It was a disappointing performance for the Jackets, who were back home after a 4-1 win at Pittsburgh on Tuesday.
"Tonight was one of those mental games and the guys were a little bit tired at times and mentally we weren't real sharp with some of our assignments," coach Scott Arniel said. "That's part of what this big push is all the way home, it's going to be 50 percent mental and 50 percent physical. When you don't feel like you have your legs, it's about making sure you do the right things and making the right decisions.
"We gave ourselves a chance to win the hockey game. It's disappointing (to lose)."
Material from team media and wire services was used in this report