Sharks recover from unimpressive first period to triumph 4-2 over Anaheim

Resilience. Character. Perseverance.

These traits are something the San Jose Sharks have had in spades since their six game losing streak in January 2011, so I guess it should be no surprise that a disheartening first period that saw San Jose register two shots through 18 minutes of play ended up in the win column.

Another two points. Another victory over a Division rival. And yet another opportunity for Todd McLellan to speak about how the players have been the catalyst in getting back to the basics that win hockey games.

"It's that time of year right now where we have got to prepare and motivate them, but ultimately they need to decide how much of an input that they have in each game," McLellan said. "I thought they responded well in the second and third."

Anaheim struck first after Corey Perry, he of 46 goals and a legitimate Hart Trophy candidacy, found Bobby Ryan across the ice all alone in front of Antti Niemi. With Jason Demers out of position the Ducks winger had an easy tap in to put the Ducks up by a marker a mere 3:21 into the tilt. During the first period Anaheim controlled the flow of the game from front to back-- under Randy Carlyle's system, his teams appear to be at their best when the game is played along the periphery and the boards, and the neutral zone is a barren wasteland where rushes up the ice go to die. The Ducks executed this gameplan flawlessly in the opening frame, and after Lubomir Visnovsky scored a fairly weak goal against Niemi at 11:15, the Ducks coasted into intermission with the game in control.

In response to his team's performance, Todd McLellan sent out his fourth line to take an offensive zone draw with 30 seconds left in the period. And as Douglas Murray mentioned following the game, that message of getting the players to inspire themselves-- something that has been consistent from the coaching staff since day one of the season--is applicable even in a 4-2 comeback win.

"You have to play for sixty minutes in order to win in the playoffs," Murray said. "Even though the last two periods were better and the end result was great I think we gave away the puck too much and did not play playoff hockey."

While the second period wasn't all San Jose in terms of scoring chances, the Sharks did all the damage on the scoreboard. Dany Heatley notched the first goal for the Sharks, driving to the net and picking up his own rebound to slip it past Emery on the backhand. After the Sharks cut the lead in half you could feel HP Pavilion begin to get back into the game-- the last three games here have been a playoff atmosphere to say the least, and tonight was no exception as chants of "Ducks suck" sprung up throughout the game. A tripping call on Setoguchi at 3:21 stemmed the momentum a bit as Anaheim would rebound with a few scoring chances of their own, but San Jose responded well and set the stage for Patrick Marleau to continue his brilliant streak that earned him the Sharks Foundation Player of The Month award for March.

Marleau corralled a pass from Devin Setoguchi with his forehand and proceeded to display some butter hands that put the puck on his backhand to slip it past Emery. It all started after the puck bounced off of Bobby Ryan's face in front of the net, leaving him laying along the boards as Marleau scored.

"You guys are right, they did rip me off an assist," Ryan said over Twitter. "Marleau from Setoguchi and Ryan's face. FML."

The third period was all San Jose, as the Sharks peppered Ray Emery with fifteen shots compared to Anaheim's five on Niemi. It was a mirror image to the first period except the roles were reversed, and after Dany Heatley broke through the neutral zone with a pretty play that drew a Jason Blake hold, the Sharks received their first power play of the night.

They made it count.

Lined up above the left circle, Devin Setoguchi took a feed from Dan Boyle and unleashed a howitzer that blew past Emery and found twine. It was a goal scorer's goal, and with Joe Thornton providing a screen in front (as well as Pavelski running the second screen in the high slot that San Jose likes to employ), Emery's reaction was too late.

Marleau would put the game on ice with an empty netter at 19:19, scoring his 37th goal of the season.

The Sharks response to the first period was as good as any as we've seen thus far this season, and it comes as no surprise that the team has begun to take ownership of their play with the postseason a mere week and a half away. Dany Heatley, who has had his fair share of struggles this season, continued to play some excellent hockey since returning from his two game suspension for elbowing Steve Ott. He's a player to look for in the coming days, and as he mentioned following the game, his skating ability has been steadily improving.

Douglas Murray set a franchise record with nine hits in tonight's game. Of note, a blast on Bobby Ryan in the neutral zone, a strong body check on Corey Perry after the Ducks winger got a little too fancy in front of the net, and another body check on Ducks defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky along the boards were ones that demonstrated his physical attributes. Visnovsky was injured on the play and is day to day with an upper body injury. That's a huge piece to Anaheim's postseason chances (considering Vishnovsky is a legitimate Norris Trophy candidate this year), and Randy Carlyle demonstrated that by yelling at Murray from the bench at the end of the game.

It's something we've seen before from Carlyle of course, and it's something one can never forget-- Carlyle is a Coach who takes pride in defending his players, and with so much of his team's success hinging upon Visnovsky's health, emotions can tend to run a little high. Especially against a Division rival. And especially with all of the history between these two organizations.

Resilience, character, and perseverance, all notable takeaways from tonight's game. But if there's one ultimate idea that can be taken away from tonight's game it is this-- San Jose and Anaheim are two teams who know how to put an entertaining brand of hockey on the table, and both are putting up some of their best performances of the year heading into the postseason.

While it's likely a matchup between the two teams would be a drag-em-out slug-em-out heart-attack inducing affair in the first round, it would be almost poetic for McLellan's career as a Head Coach to come full circle in a year when the Sharks are poised to make a legitimate bid for the Stanley Cup. 2009 remains a sore subject for the organization and its fanbase, a playoff loss that has yet to be fully redeemed.

It's hard to ignore the dangers of Anaheim as a potential spoiler, the hot bottom seed with impressive goaltending and arguably the best top line in the entire League.

But from an entertainment standpoint, it's hard to say that any potential series would have as much at stake as this.

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