Make sure that you’re tuned in to the game tonight in the State of Hockey. It’s sure to be a big one for the Sharks and the Minnesota Wild, for a variety of different reasons.
San Jose recovered nicely from their recent disappointments at home with a strong road performance in blustery, cold Winnipeg last night. The goal by Marc-Edouard Vlasic with 5 seconds to play was certainly one to remember, and it was the second one that he has scored in the closing seconds of the third period.
You remember the first one: on December 20th vs. St. Louis, the Sharks were trailing, 2-1, Antti Niemi was on the bench for an extra attacker, and Vlasic forced OT with passes from Joe Thornton and Melker Karlsson with 21 seconds to play. Brent Burns later won it in overtime with a 4-on-3 power play goal.
This time, Karlsson had put the Sharks in front, 2-1, with a nifty give-and-go play from Joe Pavelski and Burns. But Jay Harrison, on a broken play, scored a power play goal to tie it, and everyone was preparing for overtime.
Then, Vlasic got back on the ice. On a brilliant faceoff play, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture combined to get the puck over to Vlasic, who was moving in from his position on the left point. Vlasic’s shot got by goaltender Michael Hutchinson at 19:55, and just as quickly as that, the Sharks added 2 points in the standings and the Jets, who were expecting to add at least 1, added zero.
It should be a great game tonight. Both previous meetings have been decided by a single goal. On Oct. 30th at Xcel Energy Center, Antti Niemi stopped 43 shots as his team faced a season-high 46 attempts on goal. The Sharks led that game, 2-0 and 3-1, before Kyle Brodziak scored twice in the third to force overtime for the Wild. Then, Jason Pominville got the game deciding goal in the shootout.
On Dec. 11th at SAP Center, St. Paul native Alex Stalock got the call for the first time in his career against his hometown team. He made 18 saves, and Joe Pavelski got the game winner for him in the 2-1 victory.
Is Stalock playing tonight? Well, in the immortal words of my former color commentator, Pete Stemkowski, “when they drop the puck, we’ll know.” But if he does get the start, it would be his first-ever NHL assignment in his home state, and that would make it a big night for him.
For the Sharks, it’s a big night either way. They’re at the halfway point of the season, and they’re tied with Vancouver, Los Angeles, and Winnipeg in the increasingly tight Western Conference playoff race. A win would take them into a big game in St. Louis with a chance to sweep a trip and gain ground.
For the Wild, it’s an increasingly desperate situation. They’re 7 points out of the playoff pack, but they do have 3 games in hand on the Sharks, L.A., and Winnipeg. They didn’t play last night. They are going with Darcy Kuemper in net, and they’ll be without Nate Prosser (sick) on defense.
While tonight’s game is nationally televised on NBC SportsNet, we appreciate the fact that many fans would like to have a local broadcast that is in synch with the TV picture. We have that option for you on the San Jose Sharks Radio Network. Our coverage begins on affiliate stations and sjsharks.com at 4:30, and flagship station 98.5 KFOX joins us at 5:00. To synch up the radio feed with what you see on TV, we have directions right here on our website:
Enjoy the game, and the rest of the road trip! I’m Dan Rusanowsky, for sjsharks.com.