The San Jose Sharks once again played a strong road game and, in defeating the Minnesota Wild 3-2, they extended their road winning streak to 10 games, tying the second best road streak in NHL history. Steve Bernier, Kyle McLaren and Jonathan Cheechoo posted goals and Evgeni Nabokov stopped 19 of 21 shots to secure the win. The victory also gave the Sharks points in 13 straight road games and 25 of 26 available points.
“It is quite a team accomplishment,” said Sharks Assistant Coach Rob Zettler. “We keep things simple on the road and keep going to the net with our big forwards. It’s tough to do on the road and the way we’ve been doing it has been awesome.”
Sharks Head Coach Ron Wilson mixed his lineup against the Wild a little by inserting Curtis Brown and Douglas Murray
onto the ice. Rob Davison missed the contest with “bumps and bruises” and Sandis Ozolinsh was a healthy scratch.
San Jose tested Wild netminder Niklas Backstrom early with four shots on a power play drawn by Joe Thornton
. The best chance came when a Thornton pass was quickly redirected on net by Milan Michalek, but Backstrom handled the puck.
Evgeni Nabokov faced an early wraparound attempt by Pavol Demitra, but that was easily turned aside.
With little offensive action, the game appeared to be headed to a scoreless first intermission, but the Sharks had other ideas. Thornton attempted to stuff the puck shortside on Backstrom and while the save was made, the vulcanized rubber sat on the doorstep. A mass of bodies attacked the crease, but it was Steve Bernier who received credit for jamming it home and Team Teal took the 1-0 lead to the locker room. It marked the second consecutive game Bernier had scored and his fourth point in the last three contests.
“He’s been going down low and taking the puck hard to the net,” said Zettler. “He’s been rewarded getting to play with Joe and that gets you more chances.”
Team Teal killed off the bulk of a two minute penalty to start the second period, but it was an even strength rush by Minnesota that tested Nabokov four minutes in. On the play, Brent Burns
forced his way in alone on the Sharks netminder, but Nabokov in turn forced Burns wide and the lead stayed in tact.
Minnesota was not done testing San Jose’s goalie though, continuously pressing and forcing Nabokov to be at his best on several occasions. When Jonathan Cheechoo was sent to the penalty box, the Wild seemed to have enough momentum going in their direction to tie the game. The host club delivered several passes through the slot that just missed an open shooter and they came up empty on the two minutes.
Then just as they did in the final minutes of the first period, San Jose struck late in the second. This time with just 1:39 left on the clock. An initial shot was redirected, but Backstrom made the difficult stop. A battle ensued for the loose puck in the slot and defenseman Kyle McLaren swooped in from the side and lifted a backhander to the top of the net. It was McLaren’s first goal of the year and the third in two games for the Sharks blueline group.
“The last two games, we’ve gotten three goals from them,” said Zettler. “We’ve been at the bottom of the NHL heap in goals there, so it’s nice to get the contributions.”
Minnesota would finally solve Nabokov on a third period goal that was a bit lucky, but the result of hard work. The action was initiated when Dominic Moore
entered the zone and fired on net. When Matt Carle went to clear the zone, the puck, which was in the air, bounced off Stephane Veilleaux’s stick and beyond Nabokov. San Jose would have to defend the now 2-1 lead into the game’s latter stages.
With 11 minutes left in the third, Carle was sent to the box and the Wild attempted to tie the contest with the man-advantage. The Sharks showed why they are the second best penalty killing bunch in the NHL and kept Minnesota from even posting a shot.Joe Pavelski
looked to provide some insurance when he split the defense and had a moment alone on Backstrom, but the Minnesota netminder nabbed the shot with this glove and hope remained for the home club.
With 4:38 left in the third, that hope became a reality. Some strong cycling allowed Marion Gaborik to feed Mark Parrish in the slot and he one-timed his shot inside the far post
If there was any emotional let down, it didn’t last long. Just 10 seconds later, the Sharks again had the lead. Following the faceoff, Cheechoo corralled a loose puck heading toward Backstrom. He faked the shot and went to his backhand for the go-ahead tally.
“It was great to see him score that kind of goal,” said Zettler. “He pump-faked the goalie and walked into an empty net. Hopefully that will be a big confidence boost for him.”
Minnesota pulled Backstrom for the extra attacker with 35 seconds remaining and forced a scramble around Nabokov, but he made a critical stop and Mike Grier cleared the puck to seal the 3-2 victory.
San Jose will host Calgary on January 3 in a 7:30 p.m. contest with limited tickets available at the HP Pavilion Ticket Office and at www.ticketmaster.com. The game will be aired on FSN Bay Area, 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com.