Thank heavens for Evgeni Nabokov - and the Sharks' power play.
The Sharks netminder rescued his team from the hard-working Columbus Blue Jackets tonight, stopping 29 of 31 shots to help San Jose come back from an early deficit to win 3-2, with help from the Sharks' special teams, who converted on 2 of 6 power play opportunities.
San Jose seemed to be getting a taste of its own medicine in the first period - they were being outshot 9 to 3 after 11 minutes of play, though Evgeni Nabokov held off some key scoring chances, including on one play when he stripped Kristian Huselius of the puck to cover it up in the crease.
However, Columbus' strong forechecking, especially from their first line of Rick Nash - R.J. Umberger - Kristian Huselius, would get them on the board first. Nash scored from the left circle at 16:38 when his shot was deflected into the net off of Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle's stick. Nash's 13th goal of the year was assisted by Jan Hejda and former Calgary Flame Huselius.
Nash's goal was also his 300th career point.
Despite holding their own in faceoff wins (10-5), San Jose finished the period being outshot 14-4, in a ghastly reversal of most every game prior.
Jason Chimera was called for holding Dan Boyle at 2:12, and the Sharks went on the first man-advantage of the evening. With just 11 seconds left of the power play, Rob Blake was called for tripping. Fortunately for San Jose, they were facing the team with the worst power play percentage in the NHL, and managed to kill off the ensuing 1:49 of the Blue Jackets' 5-on-4.
R.J. Umberger and Rob Blake had an altercation of mutual clumsiness around 8:12, when Blake pushed Umberger at the crease, causing him to tumble and slide. In the process of going for the puck, Blake lost his balance and toppled over Umberger, slamming his head into the ice with both hands. No malice was evident - Blake even stayed with Umberger to ensure that he was ok - but Umberger needed a moment to get up off the ice.
Right after the subsequent faceoff, Jakub Voracek was called for holding the stick, and the Sharks went on their second power play. This was augmented by a delay of game penalty called against Michael Peca, and the Sharks were on a 5-on-3 for 1:39.
The Blue Jackets humbled the Sharks during that 2-man advantage, during which time San Jose managed to put just 2 shots on goal. Columbus still led on the scoreboard, 1-0.
At 12:59, Jakub Voracek was penalized again, this time for interfering with Dan Boyle (who had a knack tonight for drawing penalties). This was Columbus' third straight minor penalty.
The third time was a charm for Captain Patrick Marleau - with just two seconds left of the power play, he backhanded the puck on goal, which deflected (thanks to Jan Hejda) into an arc - the trajectory of which happened to include the back of the net. Dan Boyle and Marc-Edouard Vlasic assisted.
Marleau's goal (on the 10th s.o.g. - Columbus had more than double that) was his 250th career goal, and sent him into the franchise record books for most power play goals, passing former Sharks captain Owen Nolan with 76.
Around 17:10, Ryane Clowe almost brought the Sharks to a lead when his shot trickled underneath Columbus goaltender Steve Mason's arm. The puck nearly crossed the goal line before Mason snatched it.
The period would finish with the Sharks on another power play - just as Milan Michalek was checking Jason Chimera into the boards in the Columbus end, Chimera shot the puck into the stands, earning him a delay of game penalty at 19:51.
The Sharks managed to edge the Blue Jackets in shots on goal, 9 to 8, in the second period, and had tied the game at 1 despite being down 13 to 22 in total shots on goal.
The Sharks began the third period without defenseman Brad Lukowich, who suffered a lower body injury in the previous frame [FTF awaits more information] - and with 1:51 left of the Chimera penalty.
It didn't take long for the Sharks to gain the go-ahead goal - just 44 seconds, actually. After San Jose won the faceoff in Columbus' zone, Dan Boyle set up Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who fired it from the circle on goal, where it was saved by Mason. However, Mason was not prepared to block Jeremy Roenick's recovery of the rebound - and J.R. earned his second goal of the season (511th in his career), his first at the H.P. Pavilion since Game 7 of the 2008 Quarterfinals. San Jose now led 2-1, despite being drastically outshot, and mostly outplayed.
Three minutes later, Fredrik Modin tied the game again with his 4th goal of the season. Though Jared Boll and Derick Brassard assisted, full credit is due to Modin, who came away from the boards to maneuver past the Sharks, sending the shot through the legs of Rob Blake and past Nabokov, at 3:45.
Jan Hejda, who deflected Marleau's shot into the net earlier in the game, was cited for a delayed penalty around 7:30, and lost his stick (or was it the other way around?). Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Devin Setoguchi assisted Joe Thornton, who banged home his 8th of the year from the right crease, down low. The Sharks now led again, this time 3-2, on their 21st shot. Vlasic, who came into the right area at the right time (like Tuesday night) earned his third point of the evening, as well.
The goal would stand up as the game-winner = Columbus fought back valiantly, making Nabokov's subsequent saves all the more important. The Blue Jackets killed off a hooking penalty against Derick Brassard, and San Jose held off 38 seconds of a 6-on-4 to pluck 2 points out of the evening.
Final score - 3-2. Shots on goal - 31 to 22, Columbus. Faceoff wins - also 31 to 22, but San Jose. Vlasic led all players in ice time (25:58); Mike Commodore led Columbus with 23:44, and was also a plus-two.
The Sharks take on the Edmonton Oilers, with or without Jonathan Cheechoo in the lineup (Tom Cavanagh was in tonight), on Saturday night at The Tank.