Without any success on the road, San Jose Sharks returned home with a hope to regain the form they were in before they left when they scored 10 goals in two games. It turns out, the Sharks picked up exactly where they left off, and scored five more goals tonight, as they defeated Tampa Bay Lighting with a final score of 5-2.
If there was any doubt whether the Sharks felt angry about the scoreless road trip, or NHL's suspension of their captain Joe Thornton, the team took care of these doubts early in the game. There was no lack of energy and emotion on the ice. The Lighting did not lack any confidence either, and both team began the game by trading scoring chances. The Sharks were the first to take the penalty, as Douglas Murray headed to the box half way through the first period on an interference call. Instead of capitalizing on that opportunity, the Lighting ended up conceding a goal, as league's leading scorer Steven Stamkos made a sloppy pass in the neautral zone that led to a breakaway by one of the most dangerous penalty killers in the league Patrick Marleau. Sharks' last season top goalscorer wasted no time, and slapped the puck past Mike Smith to open the score in the game and end the 3rd longest goal drought in Sharks' history.
Stamkos did not get too discouraged by his mistake and less then two minutes later beat Douglas Murray and shot the puck towards the net, where it was tipped by Martin St. Loius to tie the game at 1-1.
The Sharks did not let up with the pressure in Lightning zone, and just 90 seconds later got on board again. This goal came on the power play. After a series of crisp quick passes around the perimeter, Marleau shot the puck on the net, and it found its way inside the net off Tampa Bay's Ohlund.
The turning point in the game came with seconds remaining in the first period. After a turnover by the Sharks, Steven Stamkos had the puck on his stick and no one but Niittymaki to beat. He had enough time to pick up plenty of speed and did everything right, as he faked the shot one way, and was attempting to put the puck the other. Somehow Niittymaki managed to not only read the play, but also to spread out his right pad to make nearly impossible save, while also protecting the 5-hole. With that save, the Sharks preserved the lead and the momentum going into the second period.
The momentum proved to be crucial, the Sharks played as good of a second period as they played all season. The scoring chances were coming one after another - most of them at the hands of Dany Heatley who looked lethal all night and played his best game of the season. The Lightning kept drawing penalties finding no other way to stop the Sharks, and it was only great play by Mike Smith that kept the score from changing.
Such increasing pressure from the Sharks couldn't last long without a goal. Heatley deserved the next one and it was exactly what he got, as the rebound from Logan Couture's shot found him empty in front of Smith. Heatley scores these kinds of goals as easily as I eat a plate of borsh. "What a goal!" said Joe Thornton, as he was chilling with a microphone next to Randy and Drew. This was just moments after Comcast Sports Network showed a sign in the crowd "mymclife says: Free Jumbo." Congratulations to our FTF writer for seeing her name on TV tonight.
Another memorable moments of the game that we won't soon forget (especially his most devoted fan Mr. Plank) happened shortly thereafter at the hands of Jamie McGinn. Tampa Bay's Ryan Malone laid a borderline hit on Torrey Mitchell, as he slammed him into the boards. Mitchell's linemate McGinn wasted no time dropping the gloves with Malone. While McGinn is 4 inches shorter and almost 40 pounds lighter than his fighting opponent, he put a solid string of punches on shocked Tampa forward and eventually took him down, with crowd giving McGinn one of the loudest ovations of the night.
Couture dropping the gloves earlier this week, now McGinn.. Who's next?
The Sharks domination in the 2nd period did not cease, and next it was John McCarthy who scored his second goal of the season to increase the Sharks lead to three goals. The goal was a result of another beautiful pass from Jamal Mayers, who's proving to be quite a playmaker for a 4th line forward. Is it me, or does McCarthy looks like a 16 year old version of Luke Skywalker?
The beginning of the 3rd period started much like how the second period went - Sharks scoring. Couture was credited with the Sharks' 5th goal of the game, and this time it was Dany Heatley who did most of the work. Sharks winger entered the zone and saw Couture speeding up towards the net. As Heatley threw the puck towards him, Couture sent it past Smith with a tip.
With four goal lead in the game, the Sharks slowed down the pressure a bit, and Lightning took the full advantage of it, as they took over in the scoring chances department. The reason why San Jose did not let Tampa back in the game? It was all at the hands of the Sharks netminder Antero Niittymaki. He made big saves one after another in the 3rd period, and while the Lightning did score a goal, it happened with less than two minutes remaining in the game.
By the way, how good is this Stamkos kid? There aren't that many players in the NHL that are dangerous on every shift, and most of them are Russian.
Niitty's big save in the last seconds of the first period, and his Torino-Olympics-like performance in the 3rd rightfully earned him the first star of the night in the game, as he finished it with 32 saves and 0.943 SV%.
After disappointing two games, the Sharks finished the week on the high note defeating one of the hottest Eastern conference teams. Not much negative can be said about the way they played tonight. All forwards were focused and dangerous all night. The defense and special teams played another great game. Niittymaki made all the important saves at the times when they were most needed.
It is exactly this kind of performance that the Sharks' needed right now, and the next game against "ducks from a pond" (brilliant CSN' commercial!) can't come soon enough.