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Sharks top Blue Jackets for fourth straight win

by Craig Merz

COLUMBUS -- San Jose Sharks goaltender Alex Stalock wasn't perfect in regulation and overtime Thursday against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The shootout was another story.

Stalock remained flawless in the tiebreaker this season by stopping all three shots he faced, helping the Sharks to a 4-3 victory and extending their winning streak to four games.

Joe Pavelski, shooting in the bottom of the second round, made a number of dekes before putting a backhander past goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. Columbus' Cam Atkinson then saw the puck roll off his stick as he came in against Stalock in the third round, ending the game.

Stalock, a rookie playing his first full NHL season, is 3-0 in shootouts and has stopped all 10 shooters he's faced. The Sharks lead the NHL with 10 wins in 15 tries in the tiebreaker.

"One-on-one anytime is fun," he said. "It's a contest, a completion. Whether it's practice or a game, it's fun."

San Jose (43-17-7) pulled even with the Anaheim Ducks at 93 points atop the Pacific Division although the Ducks have played one fewer game.

Columbus (34-26-6) had its two-game winning streak stopped. However, the single point moved the Blue Jackets past the New York Rangers into second place in the Metropolitan Division. Each team has 74 points, but the Blue Jackets have played one fewer game.

"That team plays hard," San Jose coach Todd McLellan said of the Blue Jackets. "They're as competitive as any team in the league. They're physical. They've got good body position when they enter the zone. They throw a lot of pucks to the net. If we weren't ready to go we wouldn't have come close to getting the result we got tonight."

Blue Jackets defenseman James Wisniewski sent the game into overtime by scoring with 4:58 left in regulation after Columbus squandered a 2-1 lead by giving up goals to Matt Nieto and Patrick Marleau in the first six minutes of the third period. Marleau's goal was his second of the game and 28th of the season.

The Sharks tied the game 15 seconds into third on the ninth goal of the season by Nieto. San Jose got the puck deep after the opening faceoff; Nieto pounced on a loose puck and beat Bobrovsky.

San Jose went up 3-2 when Marleau ended San Jose's 0-for-20 power-play drought. Columbus got caught up ice and the Sharks had an odd-man rush with Pavelski feeding Marleau between the circles for a shot that had Bobrovsky backing into the net.

Prior to the goal, the Sharks had been 2-for-56 on the power play in their past 18 games.

"We didn't sulk on the bench," Atkinson said. "We held our heads high. We're a pretty damn good team."

San Jose had momentum after Marleau's goal but Brandon Dubinsky, who assisted on a shorthanded goal by RJ Umberger in the second period that gave Columbus a 2-1 lead, fed a backhanded pass across the ice to Wisniewski near the top of the right circle for a slap shot that beat Stalock. It was his sixth goal of the season.

Columbus also got a first-period goal by Ryan Johansen and nearly won the game in the final five seconds of regulation while on the power play when Jack Johnson unleashed a drive that Stalock had to go post to post to make the save.

"It's a puck that you have to play and get over to," Stalock said. "My job was to recover over there."

Stalock, who gave starter Antti Niemi a night off before the Sharks visit the New York Islanders on Friday, made 35 saves through overtime. Bobrovsky stopped 24 shots.

"Al played great tonight and made that huge save right there at the end of regulation to get that point," Marleau said. "We stuck with it and got the extra one."

San Jose had early pressure, firing from all angles, but Johansen scored his 26th after the gritty work was done by Nick Foligno to take possession after a faceoff. Foligno was knocked to his knees by Sharks defenseman Justin Braun in the high slot but was able to dish the puck back toward linemate Boone Jenner. He wasn't able to gain control, but Johansen swooped in and fired a wrist shot through a tangle of bodies and past Stalock.

The lead lasted until Marleau scored five minutes later after the Blue Jackets suffered a major defensive breakdown in front of Bobrovsky. Logan Couture took advantage and whipped a pass from the right wall to an unmarked Marleau, who stuck out his stick and redirected the puck past Bobrovsky

Still, the Blue Jackets saw positives in their play against one of the NHL's elite teams.

"We got a point tonight; [we] would have loved to have gotten two, but you've got to look how the team played tonight," said Columbus coach Todd Richards, whose team visits the Minnesota Wild on Saturday. "We played a hard game against a very good team, a hard team."

The Sharks are in game nine of a 12-game stretch vs. the Eastern Conference. They are 7-1-1 in that span and 19-5-3 this season against the East.

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