Oh, the drama of the third period.
With a solid 13-2-1 record in hand over their last sixteen games, the Sharks headed into the waining minutes of the third period in Pittsburgh looking to build upon that stretch with a 2-1 lead. However, the trap of playing not to lose again came back to bite this team, as the Penguins' Tyler Kennedy scored his second goal of the game with just 50 seconds left to play.
This may have been a game that the Sharks would have gone on to lose earlier in the season; the loss of momentum as a result of a draining equalizer has been a familiar sight for the Sharks in the 2010-2011 season.
Tonight, that wasn't the case.
Patrick Marleau scored his own proverbial buzzer-beater to give the Sharks two points in overtime, scooping a rebound up and over Marc-Andre Fleury's right pad with just four seconds left in overtime. It was Marleau's second goal of the game after scoring the go-ahead goal in the third and his second overtime game winner on the road in his last five matches. The former Sharks' captain, who had been mired in an uncharacteristic slump for much of this season, is on a point-per-game pace over his last eight games. His recent play is much more deserving of the four year, $27.6MM contract he signed this offseason.
Overtime seemed as if it would end earlier than it ultimately did, and also at the hands of Marleau. Joe Thornton met Marleau with a beautiful feed in the neutral zone during a Pittsburgh change, sending Marleau on a breakaway reminiscent of his streak towards Pekka Rinne of Nashville on the 15th. The result was not the same, as Marc-Andre Fleury rose to the occasion as he did multiple times during the game, robbing Marleau with a beautiful glove save on a backhand move by the former Sharks captain. In the end, the save wouldn't matter, but credit to Fleury to keeping his team in the game as he did multiple times during the night.
Logan Couture also scored for San Jose, snapping a six-game scoring slump for the rookie winger. Although he hasn't been putting the puck in the net at the same pace we witnessed during the first half of the season, he's been a point producing machine; Couture is riding a four-game point streak in which he has piled up five assists and tonight's power play tally. And while it may not mean much to Couture, who isn't one for personal accomplishment or accolades, tonight's score tied him for the franchise record for goals by a rookie with Pat Faloon. It's a testament to Coutue's skill and unmatched promise; San Jose has produced some very talented rookies in the past, none of which have scored as frequently as Couture.
Marleau and Couture weren't the only players to continue their solid play, as Devin Setogucghi increased his scoring streak to three games with an assist on Couture's power play goal. Setoguchi has been combined with Joe Thornton and Logan Couture on the team's top line to great success lately, as the former thirty goal scorer has seemed to put his slump behind him. Many called for Setoguchi to be traded this season, but I think you would have a hard time finding as many supporters of such a move now; the speedy wing has five goals in his last three games and has scored twelve points since the beginning of 2011.
There were a few scares during the game, not only in terms of the scoreboard but also in regards to potential injury. With Crosby, Malkin and others on the shelf, the Penguins have been forced to play a much more physical style. The Penguins levied 32 hits against the Sharks, and on two occasions looked to injure important pieces of the roster. Devin Setoguchi went down in a heap behind the net at one point and headed to the dressing room, but was able to return shortly thereafter. Dan Boyle, who was injured on Pittsburgh's game tying goal in the waining seconds of the third, struggled throughout the rest of the game. Although he played in overtime, the injury could linger into Friday's matchup against Calgary.
The Sharks were able to escape without major injury, and in the same vein, avoided losing a point which would hurt the team's chances in the Western Conference playoff race. In this game between teams which play in different conferences, the three-point game didn't matter much tonight. What's important is that the Sharks escaped with a win, and the vital two points that go with it.
As a reward for their hard work, San Jose currently finds themselves in first place in the Pacific Division with 76 points, good for third in the conference. It is the first time that San Jose has led the Pacific Division race since the first week of the regular season, a shocking fact for a team so used to the pole position. It's due mostly in part to the strong play of Antti Niemi, who has been near lights-out since the calendar flipped to 2011.
Not everything tonight was sunshine and roses; Ian White was again poor defensively at times which hurt his new team. It will be a process for White; the communication between your goalie and defensive partner is vital for a defenseman, and it will take time for him to mesh with counterparts. Doug Wilson spoke to this fact in an interview earlier today, hinting that his pre-deadline acquisition of White was made early to address this issue in time for the playoffs. White wasn't all bad though; his offensive game has made a marked improvement on the team's powerplay. Since White has come aboard, the team has posted a 36% success rate on the man advantage. It's not all his doing, but it's interesting to note that the Sharks hadn't scored on eleven consecutive powerplays prior to White joining the squad.
Also, it's becoming difficult to watch the continued struggles of Dany Heatley, who now has just one goal in his last ten games. He's obviously slowed by something, be it lack of confidence or the lingering effects of an injury either this season or last. As was the case with Devin Setoguchi, Heatley has too much talent for this to be expected. Hopefully, Heatley takes a page out of Setoguchi's book and catches fire at the right time for his team.
With the playoffs right around the corners, that couldn't happen soon enough.