The San Jose Sharks returned home Thursday night to take on the Minnesota Wild at HP Pavilion. In perhaps the most exciting shootout of the season, Vesa Toskala and Manny Fernandez battled back and forth. But a Brian Rolston goal was the difference as the Wild defeated the Sharks by the final score of 3-2.
Within the first 36 seconds of play Minnesota found themselves down a man when Pierre-Marc Bouchard was sent to the box for hooking Josh Gorges. The best chance of the two-minutes however went to Wild captain Willie Mitchell when he headed down the ice on a breakaway after a blocked pass deflected directly to him in the neutral zone. Toskala made a big save to keep the game scoreless.
Toskala continued his solid play when seven minutes into the game he dove for a puck that looked to be by him, but the netminder, much to the delight of the San Jose fans, came up with the stop.
Midway through the opening frame, Marcel Goc was whistled for hooking. Minnesota managed a few shots on goal during their advantage, but still couldn’t solve Toskala.
With three minutes remaining in the first, Bouchard headed to the penalty box for hooking, but the Sharks couldn’t convert on the power play. The final minute ticked off the clock and the teams headed to the locker room scoreless despite the Wild out-shooting the Sharks 10-4.
It took just 24 seconds into the second for a break in the action when Jonathan Cheechoo was sent to the box for tripping. Toskala continued his stellar play during the penalty kill, but with 22 seconds remaining on the advantage, Filip Kuba solved him by slipping a loose puck past him. The Wild took the 1-0 lead.
On the ensuing faceoff, Kuba was penalized for tripping, sending San Jose on their third power play of the evening. The Sharks nearly tied the game when Tom Preissing rang a shot off the post after receiving a perfect pass from Patrick Marleau.
But the never-say-die play of Scott Thornton put the Sharks on the board after he wristed a shot on goal that was initially turned away by Fernandez. But the feisty left winger managed to poke the puck past the netminder after a couple tries. The game was now knotted at one.
Toskala made two acrobatic saves on a Minnesota scoring attempt, brought a roar of approval from the Sharks faithful and kept the game tied.
The game would stay tied at one heading into the second intermission.
That would change just more than a minute into the third as Joe Thornton scored his 18th of the season. Skating into the Wild zone, Cheechoo left a drop pass for the usual setup man and the big center ripped a shot on net that beat Fernandez glove side.
Minnesota would look to get even on the ensuing play. With the referee completely missing the original trip by Fernandez on Ekman, the Swedish winger was called for the retaliatory penalty, providing Minnesota a two minute advantage. Toskala was forced to make two strong stops, but the penalty killers did the rest and the lead remained in tact.
With eight minutes remaining, Minnesota had a prime chance to tie the contest when their star, Marian Gaborik, skated in alone on Toskala. Each move he attempted to make was matched by the athletic Finnish netminder and when he finally went glove side, Toskala reached out for the stop.
A quick tape-to-tape pass by Marcel Goc to Grant Stevenson almost provided a two-goal lead, but Fernandez made the save. Fernandez received a chorus of boos every time he touched the puck for his clip of Ekman earlier.
With five minutes remaining, Toskala made a stop of a tight shot, but with the puck laying in the crease and Toskala down, Mark Smith covered the puck with his hand and a penalty shot was called. The penalty shot was worth it, for had Smith not made the desperation move, Minnesota’s follow-up tap-in goal would have tied the contest. Unfortunately for San Jose, Gaborik wristed the penalty shot by Toskala for his 20th goal of the season and the game was tied at two.
San Jose came out blazing on the next possession. First Ekman fired one just off target, then Cheechoo slapped one just wide.
Minnesota would have taken a late lead with three minutes remaining if not for a slick Toskala save on a two-on-one rush.
The final three minutes of the game passed by and the game was headed to overtime.
One minute into the extra stanza, Ekman nearly sent everyone happy when he lead a quick breakaway, but his wrist shot was turned away by Fernandez.
An exciting overtime period expired without a winner and the game was headed to a shootout.
Mikko Koivu led off for Minnesota, but Toskala hit him with a poke check, deflecting the puck away. Ekman was next and his attempt was turned away by Fernandez. Gaborik was up next and his five hole attempt was stoned. Cheechoo followed and was turned away as well. Randy Robitaille's shot was swept away by Toskala's leg pad. Joe Thornton couldn't solve Fernandez either so now it was up to Daniel Tjarnqvist. His shot was stopped by Toskala too.
Niko Dimitrakos lost the puck heading in and his shot went awry. Brian Rolston followed and finally snuck one past Toskala. It was now up to Stevenson, but his wrister was stopped by Fernandez and the Wild skated off with the 3-2 shootout victory.
On Scott Thornton’s second period tally, Doug Murray recorded his first career NHL point, while Steve Bernier notched his first career assist.
The Sharks will play host to the Anaheim Mighty Ducks Saturday night at HP Pavilion at 7:30 p.m. The game can be seen on FSN Bay Area and heard on the Sharks Radio Network and sjsharks.com and tickets are still available at the HP Pavilion Box Office and at www.ticketmaster.com.