Sharks fail to tie for Pacific lead, fall 3-2 in shootout

Wires got crossed tonight, so we actually have two recaps. Ivan's coverage can be found here.

If you thought that the Pacific Division was close before tonight's game in San Jose, you should take a look at the standings. The Sharks, who failed to hold a lead for the second straight game against Dallas, fell in the shootout after leading the game 2-1. Three points now separate the Stars and Sharks, who now sit in a tie with the Los Angeles Kings for third place in the unexpectedly tight division. The game, a game which could have been a big confidence builder for San Jose, left the players deflated afterwards.

"It sucks," said Captain Joe Thornton, obviously disappointed in the outcome of a tight, even match. "It was a close divisional game, there was alot of passion in that game, it was a real solid game. You'd like those types of games to continue and play forever. It's too bad we lost in the shootout."

Although you could argue that the game on the whole was close, it didn't start that way. The Sharks came out slow once again tonight, a characteristic that has plagued this team for the majority of the year. For the first half of the opening period, San Jose played the listless style that has defined their starts this season, and once again that play resulted in an early goal for the opposition.

After a botched zone clear, Jamie Benn got a wrister past Antti Niemi to start the scoring. The goal was the culmination of the Sharks early game struggles; they weren't skating, weren't passing well and weren't communicating on the ice as they had against Chicago just two nights prior.

The Sharks would limp through the first period and return to the dressing room down just 1-0. Although some of the Sharks were playing well (specifically Jamie McGinn, Logan Couture and Ryane Clowe), they were missing the all around team effort that led to their success against the Blackhawks. A telling stat: after turning the puck over just eight times in that win, the Sharks lost the puck four times in the first period of this loss.

Dallas made things tense again in the second, as they rang one off the post just a few minutes in. The Sharks, however, would find their spark in another familiar place. The line of Couture, Clowe and Benn Ferriero sustained pressure in the Dallas zone for an entire shift and were able to get off the ice while the Sharks still had possession. Thornton's line came on, and after what seemed like an eternity behind the net for the Captain, he found Derek Joslin for his first NHL goal.

"You score your first NHL goal, it's something you're going to remember for the rest of your life," said Joslin.

The goal gave the team a much needed spark, and the Sharks dominated much of period afterwards. Exactly two minutes later, Ryane Clowe scored on assists from Benn Ferriero and Jason Demers. It was Clowe's ninth goal of the season and his fourth in four games. Clowe extended his recent stretch of dominance on the scoreboard.

Dallas was able to get even before the end of the period on a power play goal by Mike Ribero which was tipped twice coming in from the point. Dallas ended the night 1 for 3 on the power play, while San Jose went 0 for 1. The game was a loosely called affair, where both teams benefited from missed calls.

The conclusion of the game was written by the goaltenders; both Raycroft (31 saves, .939 SV%) and Niemi (29 saves, .935 SV%) excelled in the final frame and into overtime. Raycroft made some incredible saves, especially two on Patrick Marleau on the Sharks' only power play, which would help send the game to the shootout.

However, it was a save that Raycroft appeared not to make that might have made the biggest difference.

In the shootout, Logan Couture appeared to put the puck underneath Raycroft, who slid into the net and then kicked the puck out from under him. Common sense tells you that the puck must have crossed the line, but without conclusive video evidence, the call of no goal stood.

"I was hoping that there was an opening for the camera to see it because I knew it was in," stated Couture, who had his shootout attempt fail under video review. "It was deep enough to be at least a foot or two in."

Jamie Benn and Brad Richards scored for the Stars in the shootout to win two one.

In the post game scrum, Coach Todd McLellan spoke about his team's inability to start the game off well. 

"I'd like to have the first ten or so minutes back again. I think it was pretty evident that we didn't have much jump or fight in us early," said McLellan. "Once we did, we were very competitive against a competitive hockey club. But at the end of the night, we're a point short of where we wanted to be."

That's where the Sharks will remain until Wednesday, when they take on the Nashville Predators to begin a short road trip. Until then, they'll likely look at this game and realize where they could have been.

Notes: Douglas Murray, who sat out with an undisclosed lower body injury, will skate tomorrow and travel with the team. 

Devin Setoguchi, who has been out with an upper body injury, is also likely to make the trip. McLellan had this to day about his situation: "He's got an opportunity to get healthy first, and then when he comes back he'll dictate what role he plays. It's not me. He's got to get back and earn ice time and get confident. If he plays the way we know he can he'll have a very important role. If he plays laxidasical or not overly committed, he won't have a part." 

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