The San Jose Sharks looked to make it two out of three wins on the current trip with a contest in Minnesota, and a brilliant shutout by Evgeni Nabokov, along with goals from Milan Michalek, Ryane Clowe and Jonathan Cheechoo, to post a 3-0 win.
Nabokov started his ninth straight contest and Niklas Backstrom played between the pipes for Minnesota. San Jose got a pleasant surprise when Captain Patrick Marleau
returned to the lineup.
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Team Teal put up six shots in the game’s first five minutes, but it was the host Wild with the first two scoring chances. First, a flip pass sent Marian Gaborik in on Nabokov, but a quick poke-check prevented a good shot. Then, within the same minute, Gaborik led a two-on-one, but the defender covered the pass and Nabokov gobbled up the shot.
The Sharks first major scoring chance came when Scott Hannan dropped down from his point and Joe Thornton found him after circling behind the net. Backstrom was in the right spot and the game remained tied, despite San Jose outshooting Minnesota 10-1 halfway through the contest.
San Jose continued forcing the issue through the period, including a truly impressive shift in the period’s final minute by the Thornton line. The shift did not produce a goal, but drew a penalty with just 30 seconds left in the first.
The opening period ended scoreless thanks to strong play by Backstorm who stopped 15 Sharks shots.
Tuesday’s middle period began with the Sharks up a man, but the Wild penalty killers clogged the middle and kept the game even. A hard-working Marleau drew a second consecutive power play, but the results would not change.
Actually, it was Nabokov who was key for San Jose on the power plays as he was forced to come up with two breakaway saves.
With 12:03 left in the second Team Teal finally opened the scoring. Marc-Edouard Vlasic made a perfect dump-in that Thornton retrieved. The soft-handed center immediately sent the puck toward the net where a driving Milan Michalek had his stick on the ice and tipped it in.
Following a third Minnesota penalty of the period, the Sharks scored again at even strength. Steve Bernier carried the puck toward the net and had it poke-checked away, but Ryane Clowe was following up on the play and knocked it beyond Backstrom for the 2-0 lead.
It seemed that for each amazing stop by Nabokov, like the one he made with 6:33 left in the second that kept the lead at two, the Sharks seemed to respond offensively. This time it was a forced turnover by Thornton that allowed Michalek feed Cheechoo in the high slot. The NHL’s leading goal scorer from last season went top shelf for the 3-0 lead.
The three second period tallies would carry the Sharks into the third period with a three-goal lead.
Minnesota used the second period deficit as an excuse to get goaltender Manny Fernandez his first action since January 30.
The action was a little slower in the third as San Jose did not take (or need to take) a shot until the period neared it’s midway point. Then it was Marcel Goc jumping up into the play and he rang one off the post. San Jose did what they could to keep the game moving as they were penalty free with less than six minutes remaining and they continued that through the final whistle.
Late in the battle, the only question was whether Nabokov would earn a second consecutive shutout and he closed it out in strong fashion by stopping all 26 Wild shots, giving Team Teal consecutive wins over likely playoff clubs in Dallas and Minnesota.
Since the 2000-01 season, Nabokov is second in the NHL in shutouts, trailing Martin Brodeur and ahead of Roberto Luongo. Nabokov’s current shutout streak is now at 126:10.
San Jose will play at home this Friday against Vancouver in a 7:30 p.m. contest at HP Pavilion. Limited tickets are still available at the HP Pavilion Ticket Office and at www.ticketmaster.com. The contest will be aired on 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com.