Considering that the Sharks hosted the Wild at a time when both team’s defenses were depleted, Thursday night’s game could have been incredibly high-scoring. It also could have spelled disaster for San Jose, which was missing a couple regular forwards and had several players newly recalled from AHL Worcester.
Plus, Minnesota puts more shots on net than just about anyone in the league. Not good for a team both missing its top defenseman in Marc-Edouard Vlasic and relying on a younger set of players to put on the pressure.
But a stellar performance from Alex Stalock and contributions from all four offensive lines was spice for the recipe that pushed the Sharks past the Wild, 2-1.
“It was a good night for our team, I thought everybody ‘fell into place,'” Todd McLellan said afterwards. “We made great plays and finished. Everybody played to their strengths, and it was a good team win.”
Some of those great plays came courtesy of Stalock, who twisted and stretched in front of the crease to keep the opposition off the board until the third period of play. Not bad for a guy getting a third consecutive start for the first time in his NHL career. “He’s just a guy that you cheer for night in and night out,” Logan Couture complimented. “Ever since I’ve played with Al, I knew he was going to be a great goaltender in the NHL. And he’s slowly proven that. He’s been through a roller-coaster ride of a career.”
Couture himself came to Stalock’s aid twice in the second stanza with two big defensive plays that kept the puck out of San Jose’s net. “(Those plays) didn’t go unnoticed,” McLellan said. “Everybody on the bench noticed it too. That’s powerful when a player like that, makes a play like that. Everybody recognizes the great offensive plays that he makes. But the commitment to coming back, it’s powerful on the bench when you’re teammates see it.”
The game remained scoreless through the first period and well into the second. The stalemate was broken on the Sharks’ power play attempt when Brent Burns lined the puck high through traffic, past Minnesota netminder Darcy Kuemper’s shoulder to break through and put the Sharks on the board 1-0.
In the start of the third period, Tommy Wingels had a rare giveaway in the Sharks zone, and Minnesota’s Christian Folin capitalized, snapping the puck past Stalock to knot things up 1-1.
It could have been a turning point for the Wild, but the Sharks top line fought back against the meltdown. Joe Thornton made a brilliant pass to Joe Pavelski for a one-timer that Kuemper couldn’t block, giving the Sharks the lead 45 seconds later. It was a lead they would not give up, with Stalock making some of his most stellar saves as the clock wound down in regulation.
With the win, the Sharks have six victories over their last seven games. Has the team established that home-ice presence they were looking for at the start of this stint in San Jose, even in light of the mounting injuries? “We’ve recovered from the long trip,” McLellan said. We’re finding players. As the young players are coming up from Worcester, they’re able to contribute. That’s a tremendous thing for our team moving forward.”