(photo: Dinur Blum)
With only 16 games remaining in the season and a tight race in the Pacific Division where every point counts, the San Jose Sharks have reached an impasse.
They hosted the Vancouver Canucks Saturday night, a division rival they’ve played against four times already this season. Prior to this fifth meeting, the two met only four days before this one in Vancouver where the Sharks prevailed, 6-2. That was the last game the Sharks played before meeting the Canucks again at SAP Center in San Jose to close out the season series. Whoever would win this game would be the series winner. For the Sharks, a win would mean two points closer to a playoff spot; for the Canucks, already in a healthy playoff position, two points would secure their current standing.
Only two minutes into this one and Brenden Dillon and Jannik Hansen dropped the gloves, both resulting in fighting majors. John Scott and Derek Dorsett were also in on the action and each got two for roughing. On top of that, Dillon received an extra minor for cross checking. It was immediately apparent that there was unfinished, heated business that probably spilled over from Tuesday night’s game.
The Sharks got on the scoreboard first, a wrister from rookie sensation Melker Karlsson, his 11th of the year in only 37 games played. Joe Thornton got the secondary assist on that goal and scored the Sharks’ second goal on a power play, only about 4 minutes after Karlsson’s. In fact, the 2 points Thornton earned in this game were his 1,250th and 1,251st career points – plus he’s on a three-game point streak. It is this kind of performance that is needed from veterans this late in the season as the playoff push continues.
Already up 2 goals, the Sharks handed the Canucks an early deficit to overcome, but Radim Vrbata helped his team out by slicing the deficit in half late in the first. Nick Bonino and Daniel Sedin got the assists.
It was a sleepy second for the Sharks, as is the pattern of late. The Canucks evened the scoreboard a few minutes into the second frame, an even strength, unassisted goal by Bo Horvat.
With Brent Burns in the box for hi-sticking in the third, the Canucks found the back of the net to get the go-ahead goal from Vrbata. The Sedin twins got the assists. Now, 3-2, the Sharks trailed for the first time and knew they needed to pressure the Canucks in order to win this one. But after a handful of looks for the Sharks, and a few penalties on both sides for more roughing, it was the Canucks who prevailed and won the season series. The Sharks did not gain any ground in the standings, and with each loss, playoff hopes diminish. They have reached an impasse.
Although they are in good standing, currently second in the division, the Canucks needed this win too to further secure their spot, as anything can happen in the final push of games of the season. Every game counts.
The words ‘character’ and ‘luck’ were thrown out during post-game interviews by the head coaches.
Canucks’ coach Willie Desjardins commented: “[Lack] made a lot of good saves. They had some real good looks, in the third period they had two or three that were really close. We got a couple breaks on those [opportunities], but our guys played hard. This is a tough building to win in, and for us to get a win here, shows a lot of character.”
And Sharks’ coach Todd McLellan reflected:
“That stings. I thought we had control of the game…but when I look at the night, there were a lot of good things that we did. I don’t think we had any luck on both sides of the puck when it really came down to it. Whether it be defensively and bounced over sticks for a breakway or offensively the number of times that it hit the post or hit the back and didn’t go in, but that happens within the game.”
Patrick Marleau also commented on how many chances they had: “I don’t know how many times the puck was on or near the goal line, guys going to the net – things like that, but we still didn’t get the points.”
Whatever you want to call it, luck or a bouncy puck, the Sharks have got to get out of this rut, and quickly, if they want to make it to the playoffs for an 11th consecutive year.