Schneider steals a victory in San Jose; Sharks lose 3-2

With two of the Western Conference's elite going head to head tonight, you would expect a tilt with plenty of skill and flash. With the recent history between the Sharks and Canucks, it was fair to expect a little piss and vinegar as well.

The teams gave observers both, and early. At just 2:10 of the first, Brad Winchester and Aaron Volpatti dropped the gloves for a rematch of their short (but not so sweet) preseason scrap, This time, Winchester won decisively in a fight that seemed to energize both squads.

The Canucks would be the first to capitalize on that, as Manny Malhotra would score a strange goal against his former organization to put Vancouver up 1-0. After Sharks' netminder Antti Niemi lost his stick, Manny Malhotra retrieved the puck from behind the net and banked it off Douglas Murray's skate. Murray, who was trying to pick up Niemi's stick for him, was standing in a dangerous position - his own crease. The resulting own goal put the Sharks behind early.

Another Murray would score in the period, but luckily Andrew Murray did it for his own team. Stealing the puck from Edler at the San Jose blue line, Murray took the puck and drove to the net. He lost control, but some strong follow up by Andrew Desjardins got the puck back to Murray for the one timer. It was the first goal that Canucks netminder Cory Schneider had allowed in over two games, and it brought the teams to a tie that would last through the period, despite some late pressure from both teams.

The score would stay that way for a while, thanks to some incredible goaltending displayed by the constantly improving Niemi. A save on Chris Higgins is a shining example of that, as Niemi fought off shot after shot before sliding the pads over and stealing a slam-dunk chance from Higgins.

Cory Schneider had some glorious saves of his own, including two on a penalty to Maxim Lapierre. First Schneider stopped Patrick Marleau on the doorstep, and then Brent Burns point blank.

Joe Thornton would take a slashing penalty in the waining seconds of the Sharks' power play, and from that point the Canucks opened up the floodgates. Henrik Sedin scored on the power play, and less than a minute later, Andrew Alberts scored one of his own to put Vancouver up 3-1.

The Canucks dominance of the second period was unfortunate, and it went against the Sharks' modus operandi so far this year. Before tonight's game, the Sharks held an incredible +20 goal differential in the middle frame. +18 is nothing to be ashamed about, but to say that San Jose would like those two back is an understatement.

The third period was scoreless until late, with Cory Schneider again stealing the show. With seconds ticking away and Antti Niemi pulled, the Sharks would get within one. Patrick Marleau, after being stoned by Schneider a sequence earlier, ricocheted one off Kevin Bieksa. To give an illustration of how good Schneider has been, it was only the second goal he's allowed in 117 shots against. Incredible.

Momentum was back on the Sharks side, but some poor positioning and a slip and fall by the struggling Dan Boyle ended any chance that San Jose had at a comeback.

It's a tough one to lose, as the Sharks played well aside from the one minute in the second where they allowed two goals in rapid succession. They fired more shots (45-27) and won most of the face-offs (60%), but hang their heads in defeat tonight.

You lose some that you deserve to win sometimes, and often it's because of the play of a single player on the other side. Just ask Chicago how that feels.