Antti Niemi

Sharks squander 2-0 lead, and perhaps their playoff hopes as well

If there was ever a night to avoid blowing a 2-0 lead to the team most capable of slamming the door on your playoff hopes, Saturday night was it. Instead, the Sharks did exactly the opposite, pushing aside a stellar opening frame in favor of collapsing at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks 3-2 in front of a nearly full house at the SAP Center.

“I thought we had control of the game until we turned the puck over late in the first,” head coach Todd McLellan said following the loss. “I didn’t think we had any luck on both sides of the puck when it really came down with it.”

It certainly looked like fortune would be on the Sharks side in the first period. By the 8:05 mark, San Jose jumped to 2-0 lead rather easily, thanks to two tallies from Melker Karlsson and Joe Thornton just four minutes apart. Both goals were easy rebound shots off Canucks netminder Eddie Lack, who’ll be taking the injured Ryan Miller’s place for at least the next three weeks.

Lack’s affinity for serving up juicy rebounds never wavered, and I suppose that’s where McLellan’s charge of bad luck comes into play. Patrick Marleau whiffed on a 2-on-1 opportunity set up by the most amazing pass of Scott Hannan’s entire career — a chance that would have regained the lead for the Sharks. And Tomas Hertl glanced a wide open shot off of the post in the third that was so close to being a goal the crowd booed … even after seeing definitive replay evidence.

Of course, while San Jose gathered and failed to capitalize on wave after wave of opportunity over the next 50 minutes, Vancouver grabbed the upper hand.

Radim Vrbata found his first opportunity to exploit Brent Burns’s defensive fallibilities with 38 seconds left in the first, skittering a bouncing puck past #88 at the blue line and pushing the puck up to and past Antti Niemi, unimpeded.

It wasn’t the last time Burns would get taken advantage of. Bo Horvat did similar damage at 16:24 in the second, spelling the end of the Sharks’ lead for the evening. It was equal part Burns’s bad and Niemi’s bad, and yet the more these things happen, the more you wonder why Burns is still playing defensive minutes at all.

As usual, the story of the night would be the referees, who exhibited a number of foibles, none more egregious than their “intent to blow” call on a would be goal from Tommy Wingels early in the third period.

“There was a whistle, yeah,” Wingels admitted. “[The referee] was pretty decisive in his action, and I think, as players, that’s what you want the referee to do: be decisive, don’t waffle back and forth. So, I thought it was a good goal, but he blew the whistle.”

McLellan was equally suspicious of that call, and the officiating in general.

“It was an interesting night, as a whole, when it comes to whistles and what was or wasn’t,” he said. “So apparently it was covered.”

It was a baron and morose scene in the Sharks’ dressing room following the game, as media relations ushered a few players here and there to give pre-packaged answers about how frustrating this is to the team’s playoff hopes. Now sitting at 10th in the Western Conference and looking up at a couple of teams in Los Angeles and Calgary that’ll be hard to catch, it’s tough to envision more trips to the press box come April.

Off the post

— It’s been a while since I’ve covered a Sharks game (Chelena Goldman has done a fantastic job taking over for me, as I’ve struggled to find time to fit it in with school and married life) so bear with me as I make a few observations here …

— Again, I’m not following the Sharks at the microscopic level that I used to, but I see in doing so that McLellan is still dismantling and attempting to put back together his lines like it’s an old VCR. While he hasn’t touched the Pavelski-Thorton-Karlsson line in forever, he couldn’t wait even two periods to split up his Marleau line on Saturday. That trio was clicking just as well as his top weapons.

— Not actually hockey related, but this is also my first time at The Tank this season, and thus my first opportunity to see the Sharks’ new ice girls. It is as pathetic in practice as it was when they announced it over the offseason. I always used to think about how refreshing it was that the Sharks didn’t give in to that trend. It’s really totally unnecessary; after all, they employed female ice scrapers prior to this development — the only difference being they didn’t force them to wear tight-fitting spandex. Right on, Sharks.

— SAP Center was by no means empty, nor was the fans’ effort lackluster. Still, the frustration of this fan base is beginning to become evident. There were a lot of empty seats when the shark head dropped and many of those remained throughout the game. If significant changes don’t come soon, I’m guessing that’s going to continue.

— Brent Burns really needs to move back to forward. Goodnight everybody.

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