For the first fifty-eight minutes of tonight's game between the Sharks and Canucks, the last meeting of the regular season between the two Pacific Division rivals, San Jose was largely outclassed by wave after wave of a Vancouver attack that kept play in the Sharks' end of the rink and peppered Antti Niemi with chance after chance. But with a little over a minute remaining in regulation time, and the Sharks trailing 1-0, Dan Boyle took matters into his own hands.
With Niemi pulled for an extra attacker, Boyle held the puck in at the blueline following an offensive-zone faceoff win, deftly maneuvered a behind-the-back pass under pressure and was eventually the recipient of an even nicer feed from a prone Joe Thornton. Boyle's resulting shot fortuitously deflected to the side of the net for Tomas Hertl, using his no-longer-teenaged mutant ninja skills to evade coverage, who fired the puck past Roberto Luongo and tied the game. Then, with a fateful 2:22 remaining in overtime, Boyle buried a one-touch pass from Pavelski on a 4-on-3 power play over the outstretched glove of Luongo. It triggered a video review, presumably pursuant to the rule that the Sharks aren't actually allowed to score in overtime, but held up as the winner and a deserved one at that for #22 who was San Jose's best player tonight aside from Niemi and now has four goals and seven points in his six games since returning from a concussion.
After losing games in which they outplayed their opponents, either via questionable calls in overtime or those pesky shootouts, during their five-game winless drought, the Sharks were probably relieved to be on the hockey gods' good side for once. But this isn't a performance the team should try to replicate by any stretch. Save for the fourth line, courtesy an excellent game by James Sheppard, every forward combination lost its matchup to their Vancouver counterpart tonight as the Sharks once again struggled to consistently break out of their own end. Ultimately, picking up two points to gain ground on division-leading Anaheim, who lost tonight, is what matters but chasing the puck in their own zone for the duration San Jose did tonight isn't a recipe for long-term success and the Sharks have to figure out a way to get back to how they were playing at the start of the year.
- Marc-Edouard Vlasic had an incredible sixteen shot attempts tonight as his pairing with Boyle was the only one to help the Sharks generate any modicum of offensive zone time. The fact that ten of his attempts didn't make it to Luongo is an indication of how well the Canucks were closing off shooting lanes even on the brief occasions they did allow San Jose to set up in their end.
- Joe Pavelski skated on seemingly every line tonight. After starting the game between Matt Nieto and Martin Havlat and having his lunch fed to him by Brad Richardson in the first period for the second time in a week, Todd McLellan gave him new wingers in Sheppard and John McCarthy before eventually shifting him to the top line with Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau, who had their own struggles tonight prior to that change.
- Despite mistakes here and there, Scott Hannan and Jason Demers have generally been as dependable a third pairing as you can expect this season. They were brutal tonight and it's clear the Sharks just can't afford that from them the way they're currently set up on the blueline with a stacked top pair. Brad Stuart and Justin Braun aren't really capable of taking on second-tier competition so a poor showing from the bottom two sinks essentially the entire team.
- From our pal Sean Gentille of the Sporting News comes this phenomenal GIF of Kevin Bieksa's reaction to Hertl's game-tying goal from the penalty box:
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Antti Niemi
2nd Star: Dan Boyle
3rd Star: Kevin Bieksa