Sharks Win the Physical Battle and Reclaim the Lead in the West

SAN JOSE, CA - APRIL 08: The referees break up one of the numerous fights in the game between the San Jose Sharks and the Vancouver Canucks at HP Pavilion on April 8, 2010 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

What looked like an easy win for the Sharks with 11 minutes left in the game turned into the Fight Night at the Tank. 

After a shaky first period, San Jose Sharks dominated the second with three goals and the game looked all but finished as the third period was dragging to its logical ending. It all started with a scrum involving Scott Nicol around the boards that put the sharks on a 5-on-3 penalty kill. Whether it was a border-line dirty play by the home team, or a frustration by the Canucks, as they failed to score during a minute of 2-men advantage - but all hell broke lose. The fights were starting one after another and at one point, the Sharks had six players sitting in a small penalty box. Who knew it could fit that many? When the third period was finished, both teams combined for 76 penalty minutes time, in that period alone.

But the game did not start this way. 

Following the last road trip of the regular season, San Jose Sharks looked unfocused and tired in the first period of the game. Playing in his 70th start this season, Nabokov had to put another brilliant performance in the first half of the game to keep the game close. When facing 3-on-1 rush with just 8 minutes into the game, Nabokov came out with the biggest save of the game. He read the play before it happened and knew exactly where the puck would go.  Tw o minutes later, he stopped two more breakaways against him as the Sharks were on a power play.

The good news is that whatever problems Nabby was having focusing at the start of the game are no longer there.  The bad news is that the rest of the team still has them. I get concerned every time the Sharks go on a power play early on. Boyle finds himself deep in the zone, Sharks turn over the puck and no one is there to prevent a 2-on-1 or a 3-on-1, as was the case tonight. This may change in playoffs, as all teams begin to play a more conservative game, but it is still one of the team's weaknesses. 

Nevertheless, the Sharks were first to score with the help of the Sharks' post-Olympics MVP Ryane Clowe. He stole the puck in the offensive zone, datsyuked it past two Canucks players and delivered it to Joe Pavelski, who was standing all alone in front of the net. 

In the second period, Logan Couture did it again. His 5th goal of the season looked like his goal against the Flames. He was standing in front of the net, with his back to Raycroft, while taking hits from a defenseman. But when the puck was fired his way, he had his stick in the right place for a redirect. Couture now has 9 points in 12 games post-Olympics.

Not long after the second goal, Dany Heatley reminded us once again that he is the Sharks' second best passer. What a way to return a favor for all the goals Heatley scored on assists from Thornton this season, as two combined for the third goal to make the score 3-0.

As second period was coming to an end, Many Malhotra increased the lead to four goals, with his shot into Raycroft's 5-hole on an odd-man rush. With all respect to the Sharks' center, that goal probably ended Raycroft's playing time this season. For the Canucks, it's now Loungo or bust.

After the street brawl half way through the third period, the momentum of the game shifted to the Cancucks, as they came within two goals of tying the game. The turn of events was not shocking. In each fight and in each confrontation between the players, somehow Dennis LaRue penalized the Sharks with more minutes. The play went from 5-on-4 to 5-on-3 to 4-on-3 in favor of the Canucks after each stop during that memorable stretch in the game. 

But the Sharks were playing at home and the fans were playoff loud, celebrating every block, every hit and every clearance of the puck and the home team prevailed. 

Since the 6-game winless streak was over, the Sharks have gone 7-1-1, and with the two points earned tonight, the reclaim the no.1 spot in the Western Conference.

The post-Olympics hangover seems to be over. The Sharks are back. 

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