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Quick Bites: Barabanov forces overtime, to no avail

This hard-fought game, despite being a loss, was filled with momentum going forward.

Timo Meier #28 of the San Jose Sharks battles for position in front of the net against Thatcher Demko #35 of the Vancouver Canucks in a regular season game at SAP Center on February 17, 2022 in San Jose, California. Photo by Amanda Cain/NHLI

A 3-0 shutout loss to the Edmonton Oilers in the San Jose Sharks’ first game back after an extended break means every game matters as the team seeks to hold on to the quest for a Wild Card spot.

Rudolfs Balcers, who blocked a shot late in the last game and was present in morning skate, was a late scratch, making space for Jonah Gadjovich, a former Vancouver Canucks prospect. Defender Ryan Merkley, whose defensive instincts have left the Sharks wanting more, drew back in the line-up to prompt more offense.

The game opened with both teams testing the other’s goaltender — Thatcher Demko and James Reimer — although a few lapses in San Jose’s defensive coverage had them spending more time in their own zone.

Jeffrey Viel was hit high by Canucks defender Kyle Burroughs, leading to some extracurriculars. There wasn’t much momentum to be found off the hit, but it did lead to two minutes of 4-on-4 for off-setting roughing minors.

The Sharks were more energetic than in the last game, but there was a level of compete that wasn’t present early in the game. Some skaters, like Ryan Merkley and Noah Gregor, were able to break out and distribute pucks into the offensive zone, but loose rebounds in front of Reimer and a slower overall pace didn’t lead to much by way of goals.

Another penalty kill from a hold by Viel led to a little bit of jump. Nicolas Meloche took a strong presence on the penalty kill, making both offensive and defensive plays and hard checks, but even then, the response from the Sharks was mild.

For some top goal-scorers like Timo Meier and Jonathan Dahlen, it’s been a slow return to form. Both of these players have the explosivity to be instant difference-makers, and have, at points, been just that for their team. But despite their repeated efforts in the first period — driving the net, working in the corners and making heads-up plays — the Sharks remained scoreless.

The Canucks didn’t have that same problem. In the final five minutes of the first, Brock Boeser found the inside after a misplay from Mario Ferraro and buried the puck. Not long after Boeser’s goal, a giveaway from Middleton landed right onto Quinn Hughes’ stick and he thread it in on a bounce through traffic.

Beginning the second period down two wasn’t the most inspiring start, although the Sharks must have received a stern speech during the intermission because they began the period with more jump than they previously showed. With barely four minutes past, Logan Couture took advantage of a Canucks line change and slid a pass through traffic, ostensibly looking for Gregor, but received a lucky bounce instead off Tyler Myers’ stick to break Demko’s early shutout bid.

There was a sense of urgency in the Sharks, and repeated offensive pushes followed by a successful penalty kill boosted momentum. Matt Nieto was especially noticeable in that second penalty kill, and had been bumped up to the second line, trading places with Dahlen.

Burroughs extended the lead at about the halfway point, prompted mostly by Alex Barabanov slipping and falling, and deflecting the puck off Juho Lammikko.

Not long after that, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Viel took two each for roughing, and a 4-on-4 was born. Again. Viel’s third penalty of the game worked in favor of the Sharks, once Andrew Cogliano was tripped by Boeser while Viel was still in the box. Meier snagged a much-needed power play goal (and his first in seven games) to cut the lead, again, now to 3-2 in the final five minutes.

As time wound down, Couture continued the penalty box parade for interference, the fourth line continued to be an energizer for the Sharks. The period ended on a power play from a trip by J.T. Miller.

Meier started the third off with another power play goal, driving up the middle and receiving a pass from Hertl in a play designed by Brent Burns and Barabanov. The Sharks were now tied at three and were beginning to swarm.

Two goals in one game from Meier? Sign me up.

Meier then took a penalty for goaltender interference, but special teams were something of a bright spot for the Sharks, and the penalty was killed with no problem.

The third was characterized mostly by end-to-end rush plays. Miller took another call, this time a hook on Nieto, which gave the Sharks an opportunity to take the lead.

In the final five minutes, Conor Garland (and the fourth line) were caught in the offensive zone, and Garland, who drove the entry, went backdoor off of Mario Ferraro to regain the lead.

But if you were worried that was it, have no fear … Barabanov is here. With a mad scrambling mess in front of Demko and an empty net for the Sharks, he equalized the score in the literal final half-second of the game, sending them to overtime.

Just look at that Russian excellence.

On a delayed penalty called against the Sharks, Miller was able to end overtime, 5-4 in favor of the Canucks. It was a near win, a come-from-behind motivating message for the Sharks, and at least one point out of two.

The main takeaway is that this hard-fought game, despite it being a loss, was filled with physicality, the top players scoring, the fourth line driving offense and minimal defensive mistakes (at least outside of the first period).

Time is winding down between the trade deadline and postseason, making it imperative that the team views the comeback attempt as a kind of revitalizing effort, to renews confidence in the players individually and as a group.