Tonight's game in San Jose pitted two of the Western Conference's elite teams against each other as talk of a potential playoff matchup between the squads was tossed about.
Although the playoffs, and even a meeting between San Jose and Vancouver, should be far from the minds of the players and fans at this point, the atmosphere surrounding this game had a decidedly playoff feel.
"It was a very hard game, very competitive." said head coach Todd McLellan who was pleased with his team's effort and agreed that the game had a postseason aura around it. "I felt the crowd was very much like a playoff crowd; they're always great here in San Jose but tonight they kicked it up a few decibels. It really was that atmosphere."
San Jose should be proud of the overall effort set forth, even if the game didn't start out at planned. Early goals by Alex Burrows and Sami Salo gave the Canucks a 2-0 lead in the first period.
Earlier in the year, the Sharks were handed a 6-1 loss at the hands of these same Canucks on home ice. However, as the second period began, it became evident that these weren't the same San Jose Sharks.
Devin Setoguchi would score 0:57 seconds in, while Ryane Clowe would follow that up with his twentieth goal of the season just over a minute later. It was an amazing turn of events for a Sharks team which could have easily bowed down to the NHL leading Canucks.
The furious scoring to start the second provided great theater for the fans, but the officials did their part to confound the engaged crowd. To say that the match was tightly officiated would be an understatement, as seven minors were called in the second period, nineteen in total.
Mason Raymond would put the Canucks back up at the 5:38 mark, but after that goal, it was all San Jose. The Sharks peppered Vancouver's Cory Schneider with nineteen shots in the second period after managing just six in the first. The coach pointed out a change in strategy that occurred in the first intermission as the catalyst for the increased offensive production.
"We made a couple small adjustments," said McLellan, who is chasing the record for most wins by a coach in their first three seasons. "They weren't happy with their effort, we didn't have any opportunity to be physical because of where we placed the puck. I thought as the second wore on we got better at it, and by the end of the night we were ok."
Even still, the Sharks struggled to find the equalizer until Torrey Mitchell left four Canucks in the dust as he flashed the speed he became famous for in his rookie season. It may have been the most impressive move he's made in his NHL career, and he finished it off by beating an unsuspecting Schneider with 2:13 left.
Before the fans could even stop celebrating, a phantom call on Douglas Murray sent the Sharks back to the penalty kill. With surgical precision, the Canucks' league leading power play unit beat Niemi, who played one of his poorer games of the last two months.
Again, this could have been a backbreaker for San Jose, but the team was amazingly able to bounce back for a third time. With Niemi pulled and the Sharks on the power play, Joe Thornton hit Ryane Clowe with a quick feed in front of the net.
The tank was bedlam, and as overtime commenced, there was a feeling that San Jose's hard work would be vindicated with two points. Schneider, though, made some huge stops throughout overtime including a massive pad save on Clowe.
What's terrible about the game was that it headed to the shootout after Schneider stymied San Jose for the final five minutes. When a game has this type of intensity, it's a shame that it devolves into a one-on-one competition for a win. Still, credit to Vancouver for coming away with the win and the extra point off an Alex Burrows backhander.
Yes, the first period was inexcusable. Still, San Jose peppered the first place team in the league with 48 shots and was able to come back in the game thrice. The power play could have been better, but it needs to be stated that Vancouver also has the league's premier penalty kill to go along with their first ranked power play.
I was very impressed with the effort tonight, especially from players like Thornton (25:17 of ice time), Marleau (27:34), Ian White (26:45), and the aforementioned Clowe.
This team feels different to me, and I don't see how anyone who watched tonight's game could feel any differently.