San Jose quickly put the difficult loss to Montreal behind them as they returned to the friendly confines of HP Pavilion and topped the defending Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning 3-1 to win their sixth game in seven contests.
“We had a good trip,” said Joe Thornton
. “Tonight we beat a good team 3-1 and the win was well-deserved.”
San Jose was playing their first game back after an east coast swing, but Tampa Bay traveled across the country as well.
“It would have been an excuse to blame the travel,” said Thornton. “We had the day off to rest.”
“We had enough energy out there,” said Ron Wilson. “It is one of those times when youth is an advantage. We talked about that. We had a short practice yesterday and plenty of time to recover. I go by how I feel. I didn’t feel jetlagged. I know if I’m tired, they are. Tampa had to fly across the country too.
San Jose finished their Eastern Conference schedule with a strong 9-1-0 mark.
“I don’t know if it’s a fluke or the timing of when Joe came in,” said Wilson. “It wouldn’t have mattered if we were playing the west.”
Now it is the Western Conference for the remainder of the year. San Jose hosts conference foe Edmonton Thursday night and plays three of the next four at home. Following the Oilers, Team Teal plays six straight division games.
“Obviously the rest are conference games and we have a chance to move up and get in the playoff picture,” said Thornton.
“These are huge games,” said Wilson. “The people tied with us or behind us, we’ve got to beat. Those ahead of us, we’ve got to beat. In another week, it will be all west versus west and east versus east. Not everyone can get two points every night. Edmonton is a huge game and we have to beat them.
More important than who they are playing, the Sharks continue to play with confidence and wins. They know if they continue to play well, they will move up in the standings.
With Evgeni Nabokov resting a tweaked groin, Vesa Toskala took to the pipes and turned back the high-powered Lightning attack.
“Toskala played great,” said Thornton. “Our defense played great.”
Toskala deflected a lot of the credit to his teammates.
“I think we really played strong,” said Nabokov. “They had the one go in that was a lucky bounce. Other than that, I saw every puck the whole game.”
Nabokov’s groin should not be much of a problem, Wilson just doesn’t want to take any risk as the season’s second half is underway.
“Nabby tweaked his groin and it is best to rest it and stay safe,” said Wilson. “Nabby should play later in the week. He skated yesterday. They said the groin was a little sore and we want to error on the side of caution.
Nolan Schaefer was called up from Cleveland to backup Toskala.
DEFENSE FROM OFFENSE
Kyle McLaren, known for being a solid stay-at-home defenseman, stepped into the play for a second period tally that proved to be the game-winner.
“I just put my head down and shot,” said McLaren. “It was a great pass by Joe (Thornton). I can’t say I picked the corner. I was trying to hit the net and thankfully it went right over his pad.”
McLaren is happy to be stay out of the limelight most of the time, but knows how to pitch in occasionally on the offensive end, as he added a helper on Ekman’s insurance tally.
“Anytime I can help on offense, we’ll take it,” said McLaren.
Ekman was playing against the team he broke into the league with, but he hadn’t played in Tampa Bay since the 2000-01 campaign.
“It doesn’t feel like the team I played with,” said Ekman. “I approached it like any other game.”
With an assist on the first Sharks goal of the evening, Patrick Marleau
set a personal new single-season career mark for assists (30).
With an assist on the second Sharks goal of the evening, Jonathan Cheechoo extended his career-high point streak to nine games (9-6=15).
Thornton collected two assists tonight extending his NHL-leading total to 48 assists. Thornton now has a point in 16 of the 19 games played since his trade to San Jose.