Todd McLellan's strategy of loading up his top line with three of the team's best forwards in Joe Thornton, Brent Burns and Joe Pavelski is certainly a gamble and one that can burn the Sharks when that trio runs cold and there isn't enough depth up front to compensate. But tonight, in the team's biggest game of the season so far, it paid off in a huge way as Burns scored the game-winning goal with four minutes remaining in the third period after assisting on a Thornton tally that tied the score on a play kickstarted by Pavelski. San Jose's 3-2 win over Anaheim gives them 99 points on the season, two more than the Ducks, meaning they reclaim the top seed in the Pacific Division for the first time since December.
Anaheim still has a game in hand and these clubs will meet for the final time in Orange County on April 9th so planning the Pacific Division Champions parade route down West Santa Clara is a tad premature. But perhaps even more importantly the Sharks made an emphatic statement tonight that, even when they aren't at their best, they're still a whole lot better than the Ducks. In fairness to Anaheim, they were without top defenseman Cam Fowler and third-leading scorer Nick Bonino (yes, he's their third leading scorer; no, I'm not sure why this team is considered a legitimate Cup contender) but the Sharks were sans Raffi Torres for the fifth game in a row. Even with the bottom six largely doing more harm than good, San Jose carried play for most of the night and got some useful shifts from the third and fourth lines when necessary. It was Thornton and company doing the heavy lifting, however, although Thornton's first point of the game came via the primary assist on a Patrick Marleau power play goal.
The Ducks responded with a power play goal of their own shortly after the expiry of a 5-on-3 as Mathieu Perreault cashed in the rebound of a Corey Perry shot late in the second. Perry would give Anaheim its first lead of the night early in the third, taking a pass in the slot from Getzlaf and firing a puck that deflected off Teemu Selanne before beating Antti Niemi. On a later shift in the offensive zone for the Getzlaf line, which came few and far between for that trio tonight as they were hard-matched against Thornton, Pavelski stripped the puck from Stephane Robidas along the boards before feeding Burns for a two-on-one that Thornton cashed in on. Burns would be the beneficiary of a Thornton pass to win the game, deflecting a feed from the captain past Frederik Andersen with four minutes remaining to seal the deal.
- San Jose controlled upwards of 65% of the unblocked shot attempts in this game five-on-five; this was a more lopsided affair than the scoreboard indicates and that was without a ton of help from their third and fourth lines. I still don't think the bottom six they ran with tonight gives them much of a fighting chance in the playoffs but I suppose you can't argue with results like this.
- Speaking of shots, Brent Burns registered 13 unblocked shot attempts in a shade under 15 minutes of even-strength ice time tonight. Considering the Ducks had just 23 unblocked shot attempts at evens all game long that's, uh, pretty damn good. Burns was his typical monstrous self in this game, maiming Corey Perry with a patented butt-check prior to his winner in the third period. I can't wait to watch him in the playoffs again.
- Could there have been a more fitting end to Teemu Selanne's (likely, barring a playoff meeting) final game in San Jose than him missing the net on a glorious scoring chance on his final shift?
- No recap of a Sharks win over the Ducks is complete without this:
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Brent Burns
2nd Star: Joe Thornton
3rd Star: Marc-Edouard Vlasic