Dan Boyle's first night back in a Sharks uniform after missing the last six games with an upper body injury was spoiled by a New York Rangers team that had stellar net minding and showed just enough desperation to earn a 6th round shootout victory.
The Rangers had three days rest in San Jose before this game and rode the hot hand of their best player, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. The Rangers are not a team that gives up a lot of scoring chances and when they do they rely on great goaltending. Coach John Tortorella is a man who is known for getting the best out of his players and tonight was no exception. The Rangers played a strong road game and did not appear intimidated coming into one of the most difficult buildings in professional sports to play in.
Aside from Dan Boyle's return the buzz around the HP Pavilion before the game started was that Douglas Murray was celebrating his 31st birthday and that Rangers super pest Sean Avery was a healthy scratch. This was also Sharks goalie Antti Niemi's 24th consecutive start.
The first period started with what Sharks fans have become accustomed to seeing but teams from the eastern division have not, and that is another player trying to finish their check against Douglas Murray. Murray demonstarted why his teammates call him the Crankshaft as he dropped his shoulder into and stunned Brandon Prust. Prust was slow to get up but returned to show a great deal of fiestiness on the night. Both teams played a physical game especially early in the period trying to establish their games.
The Sharks showed good hussle in the offensive zone which led to the teams first power play of the night. Ryan Clowe continued his hot streak and scored his 22nd goal of the season tying a career high. His one-timer from the right side slot was re-directed in front by a Ranger player and went in past Lunqvist high on the glove side. Dan Boyle's return made a difference early in the game because he along with Logan Couture assisted on the game's first goal.
The Rangers matched the Sharks intensity and answered back with an impresive demonstartion of cycling the puck down low which lead to their first goal of the night. Erik Christensen timed his path to the net just right and took a pass from the corner before the firing the puck past Niemi to tie the game at one.
The second period started the way the first ended, with the Rangers taking it to the Sharks. The Rangers defense did a good job of pinching all night long and this resulted in sustained pressure and New York's second goal of the night. Michael Sauer's pinch was well timed but it was also a successful one because earlier in the shift Ryan Clowe had broken his stick and was unable to block the shot that made it 2-1 for the blue shirts.
The Sharks eventually found their stride and matched the visiting team's intensity. When players step it up good things happen. Just ask Ben Eager who played his best game as a Shark. He got great position in front of the net and tipped in a Torrey Mitchell blast from the side boards to tie the game at two. Again Dan Boyle figured onto the scoresheet teeing up a behind the back pass for Mitchell to drive towards the net.
Even though there was no scoring in the third period it was the most exciting for Sharks fans. Like last game against Vancouver the home team were clearly better dominating on the shot clock 12-3. The opportunites to go ahead were there but the Sharks were unable to capitalize. Setoguchi hit the post and Patrick Marleau also had some great chances to bury the puck.
Once again the Sharks found themsleves going into overtime and once again were the better team but could not pull the trigger for the game winning goal.
The best overtime chance was Patrick Marleau all alone in front after Logan Couture fed him a pass. The team's top overtime scorer was unable to get good wood on the puck which seemed to be bouncing all night long. The ice was not in it's best shape after the local arena football team the SabreCats played in the Tank last night.
Alas the dreaded shootout was what kept San Jose from earning two points. Losing in the shootout is not something Sharks fans should be too worried about because come playoff time they do away with the shootout and play sudden death hockey .
The contenders on the night were once again the opposing team's goaltender Henrik Lundqvist who didn't allow a shot that wasn't tipped to beat him. No wonder New Yorkers call him "the King." King Henrik leads the NHL in road victories.
Also earninng contender status for the Rangers is Brandon Prust who got rocked by Murray on his first shift of the game and after being slow to get up, later got in a fight with Ben Eager, played Sean Avery's pest role quite well and always seemed to be involved in the game. Prust added a helper on Michael Sauer's goal.
New York's pretender was wihout a doubt the 7.5 million dollar man Marion Gaborik, he did factor in with an assist but aside from that was invisible.
The Sharks contenders are, of course Mr. Dan Boyle. The power play operated at 33% with Boyle back but more important was his contribution on the penalty kill which has been hurting since the star defense man went down was perfect against the Rangers.
He had this to say about his first night back "It was a huge test and it went real well, I didn't get hit too many times and wasn't put in too many uncomfortable positions so I'm pretty happy with the way things went."
Ben Eager was excellent tonight. So much so that he was promoted from the 4th line to the third line in the final twenty minute frame. Eager got the crowd going with a fight and a goal, and was an assist away from the Gordie Howe hat trick. He described his night like this "I felt great out there tonight, it was good game and we battled pretty hard. We played well in the third and just have to bare down and capitalize on some of our chances and find a way to put the puck in the back of the net."
You know that Ian White one of the newest Sharks has earned the trust of the coaching staff when he is on the ice for the final minute of the overtime. As he gets more comfortable with his new teammates he will become an impact player.
The only pretender tonight who actually didn't play that poorly was Joe Thornton. Joe is a victim of his great play as of late and tonight he turned the puck over on too many occasions, in particular in the final minute of regulation time which led to great scoring chances for the Rangers.
Keep your stick on the ice,