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Surging Sharks hold off Wild

by Eric Gilmore

SAN JOSE -- When the San Jose Sharks took the ice at SAP Center on Thursday against the Minnesota Wild, they had five rookies in the lineup and an injury list that keeps getting longer.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic, San Jose's top defenseman, was out with a upper-body injury. Forwards Mike Brown (lower body) and Matt Nieto (ankle) went on injured reserve, joining forward Tyler Kennedy.

So the Sharks recalled rookie defenseman Matt Tennyson and center Chris Tierney from Worcester of the American Hockey League and put them in the lineup along with three other rookies, defenseman Mirco Mueller and forwards Barclay Goodrow and Melker Karlsson.

Then the Sharks skated to a 2-1 victory against the Wild, getting goals from Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski and winning for the sixth time in their past seven games.

After a rocky start to the season when they played 16 of their first 21 games on the road, the Sharks (16-11-4) apparently have found their groove despite losing players.

"We sure hope so," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "We've recovered from the long trip. I'd like to say we're getting healthy but we're not. We seem to be going the other way but we're finding players. As the young players from Worcester come up they're able to contribute. That's a tremendous thing for our team moving forward. It's going to put pressure on everyone to perform and play and their confidence level should be going up. As we move forward we feel good about the group and we've got to keep going."

Goaltender Alex Stalock, making a third straight start for the first time in the NHL, made 18 saves in his first career appearance against his hometown team. Stalock started the past two games because Antti Niemi, San Jose's No. 1 goalie, was hit by a puck during the morning skate Tuesday before the Sharks played the Edmonton Oilers.

"Ever since I've played with Al he's been a great goaltender in the NHL," forward Logan Couture said. "He's slowly proving that. He's been through a roller coaster ride of a career, and he's the type of guy you just cheer for night in and night out. Great guy to be around, so funny and fun to be around. You cheer for him every night he's in the net. He's played great."

Darcy Kuemper made 28 saves and defenseman Christian Folin scored his first career NHL goal for the Wild (15-11-1). Minnesota went 0-for-2 on the power play and is 1-for-44 with the man-advantage on the road.

"We put ourselves in position for a winnable hockey game," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "(Kuemper) was good all night. We did a good job defensively. Offensively we need to go harder. When we're scoring goals, we're a team that goes hard to the net. When we're not aggressive, it's too easy to defense us."

Like the Sharks, Minnesota wasn't at full strength. Defenseman Keith Ballard was out, recovering from a concussion and three facial fractures he sustained Tuesday on a hit by New York Islanders forward Matt Martin. Another defenseman, Marco Scandella, served the first of a two-game suspension for his check to the head of Islanders forward Brock Nelson.

Defensemen Justin Falk and Folin took their spots in the lineup. They helped limit the Sharks to two goals, and Folin scored Minnesota's only goal.

The Sharks took a 1-0 lead on Burns' power-play goal at 14:51 of the second period against his former team with Nate Prosser in the penalty box for interference. Burns crushed a slap shot from above the left circle into traffic, and the puck appeared to deflect off Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon's stick and past Kuemper. The goal was Burns' ninth of the season.

McLellan said Burns played with a decided edge throughout the game.

"He played with a lot of authority around the blue paint. That was a focus of ours going in," McLellan said. "A lot of their goals are scored on ... second and third opportunities in and around the blue paint. I thought he played with a bit of a growl and his net presence was very big and strong."

The Sharks nearly scored again late in the period when Karlsson, playing his second NHL game, ripped a shot from the slot, but Kuemper made the save.

Minnesota pulled even on Folin's goal at 1:03 of the third period. Sharks forward Tommy Wingels turned the puck over, passing it directly to Folin above the right circle in San Jose's zone, and Folin beat Stalock with a slap shot.

"We talked about getting off to a good start in the third period, and I think we did with my goal there," Folin said. "But they came right back."

The Sharks answered 45 seconds later on Pavelski's team-leading 15th goal of the season. Joe Thornton hit a wide-open Pavelski in the left circle with a cross-ice pass, and Kuemper couldn't get back across the crease in time to stop his wrist shot.

"They had just got one," Pavelski said. "We felt we were playing good. We couldn't revert to any other way. So we came out that next shift and I forget exactly how it got over to [Thornton] on the far side, but we changed sides and they all kind of shifted over. There was one guy and he kind of had to use his patience on, and with one guy [Thornton's] going to do that and he found me. He put it right where I wanted it."

Thornton got his second assist of the game, giving him 1,220 career points. He moved past the late Jean Beliveau into sole possession of 39th place on the NHL's all-time scoring list.

The Wild had a chance to score with less than three minutes left in the third period, but Stalock stopped Spurgeon's shot from the slot.

"There was traffic in front," Stalock said. "He had one place to shoot it, I figured, where there wasn't any traffic. I got a push over a little late but got a piece of it. Luckily enough it stayed in front of me."

The Wild pulled Kuemper with 2:16 left but didn't get a shot on goal with the extra attacker.

The Sharks outshot Minnesota 23-14 through the first two periods, but the Wild squandered four 2-on-1 rushes during that stretch, three of them in the opening period.

'That was the story of the game," Yeo said. "You're lucky enough to get one or two 2-on-1s and when we get four 2-on-1s and don't even get a shot off, that's the game."

The Wild had a prime scoring chance early in the first period. On a 2-on-1 rush, center Mikael Granlund sent a pass to Zach Parise in the left circle, but Parise didn't make solid contact and the puck went wide left.

Early in the second period, Minnesota had a great chance to take the lead on Thomas Vanek's wraparound. But Couture got his stick down on the ice at the left post and blocked Vanek's shot. The puck popped up, landed on Stalock's left pad and bounced away from the goal line. A video review confirmed the referee's call on the ice that Vanek's shot did not cross the goal line.

"We're finding ways," Couture said of the Sharks' hot streak. "It's not pretty night in and night out. If you look back a couple years ago maybe we were able to do that every night and beat teams, but we know what we've got in this room. We're going to have to find different ways to win every single night. Some nights you've got to play very well defensively and not give up many goals and get great goaltending like we've had all year, and find a way to win. It's nice to see us win and it's always nice to be at home, too."

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