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Sharks' Stalock earns first NHL shutout vs. Panthers

by Alain Poupart

SUNRISE, Fla. -- San Jose Sharks backup goalie Alex Stalock made a good case Thursday night for playing time.

Stalock made the most of a rare start by stopping 24 shots for his first career shutout to lead the Sharks to a 3-0 victory against the Florida Panthers at BB&T Center.

"The first shutout is pretty special, something to remember," Stalock said. "It's definitely special."

Stalock, a fourth-round pick in the 2005 NHL Draft, was making his seventh career start and his second in the past 12 games. Antti Niemi has started 41 of San Jose's 48 games.

Stalock was tested early; the Panthers registered four shots on goal in the first two minutes. He also made a huge save on Scottie Upshall on a redirect from the front of the net early in the third period, and Matt Nieto scored nine seconds later to make it 2-0.

"He made some really good saves when he had to," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "It was one of those nights when you don't get out in front when maybe you deserve to be, then you're concerned. The goaltender was fine, big save at 1-0, then back the other way for [2-0]. We'll take it."

Joe Pavelski had a goal and an assist, and Joe Thornton and Nieto also scored for the Sharks, who have allowed three goals in their past four games. Brent Burns had two assists.

Tim Thomas was spectacular in defeat, finishing with 36 stops. The game followed a familiar and frustrating pattern for Thomas, who came in with a 2-4-0 record against San Jose despite a 1.99 goals-against average.

"They're a good team," Thomas said. "They looked like a very good team against us tonight. We're at home. They're the ones that flew thousands of miles. It didn't look like that tonight. It kind of looked like they were the fresh home team and we just could never get anything going."

Florida failed to score on the power play for an eighth consecutive game. The Panthers went 0-for-3 with the man advantage, extending their run of futility to 27 consecutive power plays. However, Florida lost for only the second time in regulation (4-2-2) in those eight games.

San Jose went 0-for-4 on the power play and failed to convert on a first-period 5-on-3 advantage that lasted 1:29.

The Sharks snapped a four-game losing streak against Florida; they hadn't beaten the Panthers since Oct. 31, 2006.

The teams will play again in San Jose on March 18.

San Jose improved to 2-0 on a three-game road trip that began with a 2-1 shootout victory against the Washington Capitals on Tuesday and will end Saturday against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Sharks came in with the best first-period goal differential in the NHL at plus-30, but had to settle for a 0-0 tie because Thomas stopped 21 shots, equaling the most shots allowed in a period by the Panthers this season. The Ottawa Senators also had 21 shots in the first period Dec. 3 when they beat the Panthers 4-3 at BB&T Center.

"We weren't ready to play," Panthers interim coach Peter Horachek said. "Not very happy with that. We played fairly well in the second period. We just brought out energy. That was simply that. A couple of minutes in the third. And the rest of it was them. We just didn't perform for 60 minutes. That's a problem, I guess. We weren't very happy with that. Right now we have to deal with it and learn something from it and move on to the next game."

The Panthers tightened up defensively in the second period, holding San Jose without a shot for the first 8:08.

But Thornton broke a scoreless tie with 50.2 seconds left in the middle period after he outraced defensemen Dmitry Kulikov and Mike Weaver to a loose puck in the neutral zone and came in on a breakaway. When Thomas started leaning a little, Thornton softly lifted the puck over the goalie's left shoulder for his sixth goal.

"I don't know the last time I had a breakaway," Thornton said. "I didn't know how far Weaver was to me, but I just kind of dragged him across, just a lucky shot. Just going across the grain. I wanted to float one in and see if I could catch him off guard and I did."

It was the only shot of the night for the Sharks captain, but he played a strong all-around game.

"Jumbo is like wine, he gets better with age," McLellan said. "He keeps doing things well. Him getting that goal late in the second gave us a bit of a boost. Great hands, very soft play. His commitment in the third to getting pucks behind and playing well defensively led the way. You expect that from your captain and we got it."

The Sharks had another breakaway early in the third period, but Thomas stoned Nieto when he attempted a backhand through the five-hole.

But Nieto scored at 4:44 after Thomas went to the ice to poke the puck away from Tyler Kennedy on a partial breakaway. Nieto got to the loose puck in front of the net and put it home with Thomas out of position.

"Sometimes that happens where you make a big save on one end and right away on the other you get a chance like that," Stalock said. "We capitalized and that was a big turning point."

Pavelski made it 3-0 at 11:46 when he put home a rebound of a Brad Stuart shot from the point for his 22nd of the season.

At the other end, Florida generated very little offense in the third period. The Panthers ended up with five shots in the period, only one in the last five minutes.

That made it easier for Stalock to complete San Jose's third shutout of the season.

"They were excited," McLellan said. "When it got to [3-0], they were excitable. When we put our minds to it and get committed to play solid defense, we're a pretty tight group. We saw that, maybe our best defensive period in a long time."

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