In their last game prior to the three-week Olympic break, the Sharks finally prevailed over an opponent they had all sorts of trouble with a season ago. After dropping all three meetings with the Blue Jackets in 2012-13, including a pair by scores of 6-2 and 4-0, San Jose notched its first win over Columbus in over two full calendar years with a 3-2 victory tonight at the Tank capped by a dominant third period showing.
The Sharks controlled this game at its start as well, generating 14 of the first 16 even-strength shot attempts to open the contest, two of which found their way past reigning Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky. John McCarthy, recalled from Worcester yesterday after Matt Nieto sustained an injury blocking a shot Wednesday night against Dallas, scored his first goal in 73 NHL games a little over three minutes in, deflecting a James Sheppard feed top corner following an offensive-zone faceoff win. Patrick Marleau staked San Jose to a two-goal lead on another deflection goal, this time redirecting a Scott Hannan attempt seconds after a ridiculous point-blank save by Bobrovsky on Brent Burns.
Unfortunately, the Sharks were about as listless in the second half of the first period as they were dominant in its first half. A lot of that is the natural byproduct of score effects, as every team tends to sit on leads to varying extents. But after blowing a 2-1 lead to Philadelphia on Monday in one of their worst performances of the season, there was reason for concern as to whether the Sharks would be able to get away with collapsing defensively for the remainder of the game. That anxiety grew greater as Ryan Johansen capitalized on a Joe Thornton turnover eighteen seconds into the second period to draw Columbus to within one.
Perhaps that galvanized the Sharks, or maybe the realities of playing the second half of a back-to-back after losing in overtime to the Kings the night before finally set in for the Blue Jackets. Regardless, the Sharks took control of the game the rest of the way and spent seemingly the entire third period in the Columbus end, outshooting them 19-4. Tommy Wingels restored San Jose's two-goal lead with his second tally in as many games at the five-minute mark and it was a good thing he did, as a Boone Jenner conversion off another Sharks turnover made for an interesting conclusion. But a Cam Atkinson chance in the slot with Bobrovsky pulled for an extra attacker missed wide, and it was the closest the Jackets would get to tying this game.
Instead, the Sharks head into the Olympic break just five points behind division-leading Anaheim (although the Ducks play tomorrow in Nashville) and twelve points ahead of third-place Los Angeles. The best part is they'll likely have Logan Couture, Raffi Torres, Matt Nieto and Tyler Kennedy back in the lineup the next time they skate on NHL ice.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Tommy Wingels
2nd Star: Sergei Bobrovsky
3rd Star: James Sheppard