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Sharks stay hot with SO win against Coyotes

by Eric Gilmore

SAN JOSE -- Joe Pavelski remained red-hot Saturday, and so did the San Jose Sharks.

Pavelski scored for the fourth straight game and added an assist, leading the Sharks to their fourth straight victory, a 3-2 shootout win against the Phoenix Coyotes at HP Pavilion.

Logan Couture opened the shootout and beat goaltender Jason LaBarbera to his glove side for the only goal. Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi stopped Steve Sullivan, Radim Vrbata and Mikkel Boedker in the breakaway competition to help San Jose earn a second point in the standings.

Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic scored for the Sharks in the third period -- on his 26th birthday, no less -- and Niemi finished with 27 saves.

"When you're in a little stretch like this you're just trying to remind yourself to shoot the puck, and that's been a big part," said Pavelski, who matched his career-long goal streak. "It's been a simple game. We've gotten a lot of pucks in deep. We got some good looks tonight. We got some really good looks."

With 40 points, the Sharks moved past the Detroit Red Wings (39) and into sixth place in the Western Conference, one point behind the Los Angeles Kings. They're six points ahead of Phoenix, their Pacific Division rival.

"Another game goes by and we're that much closer to the playoffs," Pavelski said. "We're not focusing totally about the end right now. We need to win games, and there's a lot of teams we need to catch in order to get to the position we want to get. It's a good win tonight and we'll move on."

Boyd Gordon and Vrbata scored for the Coyotes, who lost for the eighth time in their past nine game, and LaBarbera stopped 32 of 34 shots.

"We had chances to win, and (LaBarbera) gave us a huge chance to win, and we got to OT and we couldn't get any chances," Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. "We had the lead with five minutes to go, and we need to find a way to win. We have to find ways to win games. You have to give the Sharks credit for finding ways to get back into it.

"He's been phenomenal," Doan said of LaBarbera. "Tonight he was unbelievable. He's sick and he's coughing. He's sick and he's still fighting through it."

Pavelski has scored all four goals during his streak since moving from a second-line wing to the third-line center, skating between Ryane Clowe and TJ Galiardi. His first three goals were at even strength, but his goal against Phoenix came on a power play at 10:24 of the second period, as the Sharks pulled even after Gordon put the Coyotes up 1-0 with a goal late in the first period.

Vrbata put the Coyotes ahead 2-1 just 33 seconds into the third period. Wide open in the slot, Vrbata took a pass from Doan and ripped a shot that was denied by Niemi. But the Sharks’ goaltender couldn't control the rebound, and Vrbata moved in untouched for an easy goal, as defenseman Brent Burns got caught too low.

But with just five minutes left in the third, Pavelski fired the puck at LaBarbera, and Vlasic rammed the rebound into the net, pulling the Sharks even at 2-2.

"It should be my birthday more often," Vlasic said. "It’s nice to score on your birthday, give yourself a present.

"We needed to throw pucks on net. I did that twice, (Pavelski) did that and we got a goal. It was a good comeback for us after they scored at the beginning of the third, 30 seconds in. That was tough. Guys battled back and we got two points."

The Sharks had a good chance to score midway through overtime when Burns hit Patrick Marleau just right of the crease with a pass, but he couldn't get the puck past LaBarbera.

With just over a minute left, Coyotes forward Martin Hanzal intercepted a Joe Thornton pass deep in San Jose's zone but couldn't beat Niemi. Phoenix center Antoine Vermette misfired just seconds later, and the Coyotes didn't get a shot on goal during a power play that lasted the final 12.6 seconds of overtime.

Just minutes later, Couture beat LaBarbera in the shootout.

"I just went in with speed and he’s a big guy," Couture said. "Stopped up a little bit and saw some room in the five-hole and was able to put it there."

Niemi entered the game after back-to-back shutouts and had a shutout streak of 121 minutes and 40 seconds. But his streak ended at 136:23 when Gordon scored at 14:43 of the first period.

Evgeni Nabokov still owns the franchise’s individual shutout streak record of 170:58, set during a span of four games from Jan. 20-31 in 2009. Niemi and Thomas Greiss combined to set the team shutout record of 190:51 from Jan. 23-Feb. 2, 2012. Niemi had a pair of shutouts during that four-game stretch.

Phoenix grabbed a 1-0 lead in the first when Gordon ripped a rebound past Niemi from close range for his second goal of the season. Niemi had stopped a shot from Rob Klinkhammer, who controlled the puck behind the net and fired from just left of the crease, but Gordon beat him to the glove side.

The Sharks outshot Phoenix 14-11 in the first period, but trailed 1-0 after 20 minutes.

With No. 1 goaltender Mike Smith (upper body) on injured reserve, LaBarbera started against the Sharks for the second time this season. He gave up four goals when the Sharks beat Phoenix 5-3 in their home opener. Smith notched a 1-0 shutout against San Jose at HP Pavilion on Feb. 9 in a shootout.

The Sharks finally broke through against LaBarbera and pulled even on Pavelski's power-play goal at 10:24 of the second period, with Gordon in the box after drawing a four-minute penalty for high-sticking Sharks defenseman Justin Braun.

"We have to be happy leaving the rink with the points," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "I don't think it was a perfect night by any means. A few mistakes we made, they capitalized on. They're the type of team that can frustrate you. They really can with the way they play through the neutral zone. You start to force it, and they go the other way quickly. We had some moments in the game of that, but it’s nice to see us dig in and come back and find a way to get the two points."

The Sharks played without defenseman Jason Demers, who showed up at HP Pavilion on Saturday morning "not feeling good," according to McLellan. That forced the Sharks to juggle their lineup and move the Burns from top-line wing back to defense and insert forward Adam Burish back into the lineup in Burns' spot with Thornton and Martin Havlat.

Burns had scored a goal in three straight games and had five goals and 10 points in nine games since moving to forward on March 12 against the St. Louis Blues.

Demers took a hard hit Thursday from Detroit's Cory Emmerton, a possible reason for him being out, although McLellan provided no specifics.

Phoenix defenseman Keith Yandle played his 400th NHL game, all with the Coyotes, who took him in the fourth round of the 2005 NHL Draft. Coyotes coach Dave Tippett remained one win shy of 150, but he was more concerned with the lost point.

"It was a close game. I liked the way we competed tonight," Tippett said. "It's our third game in four nights. The guys went to wall. We're desperate for points right now. It came down to a shootout, and unfortunately we didn't get the extra point."

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