One minute and six seconds. That's all it took for the Colorado Avalanche to turn a one-goal lead into a four-goal stranglehold at the start of the second period this afternoon, chasing Antti Niemi from the net and dooming the Sharks to a loss despite a valiant comeback effort by the visiting squad. Despite allowing a Nathan MacKinnon power play goal, San Jose controlled much of the opening frame and were in seemingly good position to tie things up early in the second. A comedy of errors made that impossible.
First, Dan Boyle skated out from behind his own net only to run into partner Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Former Shark Jamie McGinn jumped on the resulting loose puck and fired it upstairs on Niemi. Less than a minute later, a seemingly harmless point shot from Erik Johnson improbably bounced past Niemi and into the back of the net. That caused Todd McLellan to replace his starter with Alex Stalock, who promptly allowed a goal on the first shot he faced as MacKinnon streaked down the right wing and beat him high blocker side to give Colorado an insurmountable 4-0 lead.
But the Sharks did attempt to surmount it and were nearly successful in doing so as a three-point outing from Patrick Marleau drew the team to within a goal less than six minutes into the third. That fourth goal would never come, though, despite a late power play opportunity that yielded a Joe Pavelski breakaway. It's a doubly disappointing end to this game since the chance at a tying goal forced McLellan to ride his horses throughout, rather than resting them late prior to tomorrow's showdown in Chicago. But with San Jose's pair of fourth lines largely useless in this one, McLellan had no other choice and the Sharks have no other choice but to accept that a brutal one-minute span cost them a game in which they did a lot of things really well. They'll need to be even better, and perhaps get at least half-decent goaltending from whomever ends up drawing the start, to have a chance at beating the Blackhawks on Sunday.
- To state the obvious, Niemi needs to be a lot better than he was this afternoon and has been for the past month and change. San Jose controlled this game at even-strength almost from buzzer to buzzer and likely would have won it if Niemi had saved Boyle's bacon on the McGinn goal and stopped the floater from Johnson.
- I'm not sure who starts tomorrow, or even who should. I would have advocated for Stalock given that starting a goalie on both ends of a back-to-back is unwise and the Sharks are unlikely to win the game no matter who's in net but he played more than 50% of this one so maybe that isn't the best call.
- On the other hand, he barely had any action, facing just seven shots after replacing Niemi, so there's a counterargument to be made here. Whoever it is, the .809 SV% the two netminders combined for today won't get it done against the Blackhawks.
- This was without a doubt Matt Nieto's best game since being placed on a line with Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture. He was using his speed effectively not only through the neutral zone but in getting to loose pucks within the Avalanche end to keep the cycle alive. Despite being matched up against Matt Duchene for stretches of this game, every member of that line finished +12 or higher in even-strength shot attempt differential.
- Pretty disappointing game from the Sharks' "third" line (fourth line, version 1 might be a more accurate description) of James Sheppard, Andrew Desjardins and Bracken Kearns who really didn't give San Jose much outside of Kearns drawing an interference penalty late in the third. I didn't expect any offense but they weren't able to consistently establish much of an offensive-zone presence even against Colorado's lesser lights.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Nathan MacKinnon
2nd Star: Patrick Marleau
3rd Star: Matt Duchene