HP PAVILION — It’s a bit of an understatement to say “things didn’t end pretty” between the San Jose Sharks and Minnesota Wild when they last met April 3.
Anticipation of a physical hockey game was high Thursday night as the Sharks hosted the Wild in their first meeting since the fight-heavy matchup that left Dany Heatley with a season-ending shoulder injury.
While the sold-out crowd wouldn’t witness the same kind of fight-laden battle, they would see the Sharks score four unanswered goals in a 6-1 blowout of the Wild.
Team captain Joe Thornton summed up the win as being a full team effort:
“Just … rolling all four lines. Everybody’s hungry when they get on the ice, and everybody’s fresh. And that’s been the key. It hasn’t been one line, it’s been all four that’s been doing the damage. … It shows that we’ve got good depth and that every line is dangerous. We feel like every line is our number one line when they get on the ice. We just have that much confidence in each other right now.”
Head Coach Todd McLellan attributed the win to the Sharks playing “the right way,” as opposed to just being on another hot streak:
“This is the way we want them to play. When we play the right way we are a fast team. When we play a north-south game. And coaches talk about that all the time. It’s not a cliché for us. … Everybody has to be on their toes, and if we do that, we have a chance to win every night.”
The opening period would start off relatively quiet, with both teams only getting two shots on goal a piece in the first seven minutes of play. Jason Pominville would get a clean break but be denied, as Antti Niemi continued his multi-game dominance minding San Jose’s net.
After the game, Thornton mentioned the save’s pivotal role in the game:
“I think Nemo saving that first breakaway on Pominville early, you know that could have been a different scenario there. But he stood tall. And yeah, they came at us. But we survived it and then our offense took over.”
The Sharks would get on the board first, and it would be a doozy. At 7:42, Martin Havlat would shoot the puck, which Minnesota center Mikko Koivu would inadvertently nudge into his own team’s net. Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau would tally assists as San Jose took the 1-0 lead.
Team Teal would get a few more shots at goaltender Niklas Backstrom, including a flurry with 2:37 left in the period, but would be unable to capitalize again in the first 20 minutes of play.
The crowd wouldn’t hesitate to erupt into a roar of jeers when, with less than a minute left in the first, Raffi Torres got tripped carrying the puck into Minnesota territory and a penalty was not called.
San Jose would strike on the power play to open up the second period, with a beautiful tic-tac-toe shot from Joe Thornton to Marleau to Couture, who snapped the puck past Backstrom to give the home team the 2-0 advantage at 5:21. It would be Couture’s 18th goal of the season, and Thornton’s 786th career assist.
The Wild would eventually get on the board with Pierre-Marc Bouchard’s wrist shot over Niemi’s left shoulder, bringing the score to 2-1 with 10:16 left in the period.
Havlat would continue the assault on Minnesota’s net at 14:32. Couture jumped up and stole the clearing attempt high off the glass in the corner then fed the puck to Havlat and No.9 would get it past Backstrom with a beautiful wrist shot.
It would be Havlat’s second goal of the night, bringing the crowd’s cheering to deafening decibels as the Sharks took the 3-1 lead.
When asked about the brilliant goal afterwards, Couture smiled and downplayed it:
“It was lucky. I could reach behind my head and I was able to knock it down. Looked right up and saw Marty in the slot, so you know, we’ll take it.”
McLellan gave his own depiction of Couture’s performance on the team’s third goal:
“Athletic. Smart. Great execution. The way he’s been playing lately, he’s driving our bus right now. He’s the head guy and he’s making it happen and we’re happy for him.”
It would rain teal in the first five minutes of the third period. First, Raffi Torres would get a glorious wrap-around that shot past Backstrom, bringing the score to 4-1 at 3:59. Joe Pavelski would earn an assist.
It would be Torres’ first goal in a Sharks sweater, and gain him the most love the Tank crowd has shown him since he arrived in San Jose.
When asked post-game how the goal felt, Torres said that he was happy to be helping out the whole team:
“It feels good. It looked like we had a great team game tonight, from the goaltender right out to the forwards. So it’s nice to contribute. …. You know you don’t really feel like you’re part of it until you put up some numbers. Until you put one in the back of the net.”
Within the blink of an eye — literally, at 4:21 — Torres would get control of the puck and feed it to Pavelski, whose wrist shot would elude an unsuspecting Backstrom.
With the score of 5-1 in favor of the home team, the Wild would pull Backstrom and put Darcy Kuemper between the pipes.
Not that the change would do Minnesota much good, as Logan Couture would get a slap shot past Kuemper that would appear to ricochet off the net. It would be Couture’s 19th goal of the season and second of the game. Havlat would tally the assist.
When asked about the tremendous game he’d had, and how well he has played against the Wild, Havlat played coy:
“Well … at least (against) that team, right? They’re a great team. Tonight we had some lucky bounces, especially my goal. Why don’t we take that and be glad we got the two points.”
With another win in the books, Couture said it’s more fuel in continuing the push into the playoffs:
“I think we’re going in the right direction right now. You always want to be playing well going into the playoffs, and I don’t know if we’ve clinched a spot yet, but we’re certainly pretty close. Obviously we’ve got a big test on Sunday with Columbus, so we’re looking forward to that game.”
The San Jose Sharks will be back at home Sunday to host the Columbus Blue Jackets. The puck drops at 5:00 p.m.