SAN JOSE– One point or two at a time, the San Jose Sharks need to shake off their two-month slump if a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs becomes a reality next month.
Even with a 2-1 shootout victory over the visiting Nashville Predators Thursday night at sold-out HP Pavilion, the Sharks are tied for ninth place in the Western Conference with 80 points. Calgaryalso has 80 points, with Los Angeles sitting in 11th with 78. Both Colorado and Phoenix are in playoff spots today with 81 points.
Faced with one dozen games to go, San Jose hosts Detroit Saturday night, then Anaheim Monday night. The Sharks play the Los Angeles Kings three times in a span of 19 days, starting on the Kings’ ice Tuesday.
Joe Thornton’s 16th goal of the season 55 seconds into the third period lifted San Jose into a 1-1 tie. Once the third period ended, San Jose earned one point. After a scoreless five-minute overtime, Ryane Clowe earned the Sharks the second point when he sent a low shot inside the left post against star goaltender Pekka Rinne on the final round of the shootout.
Renne, owner of a 39-14-8 record, made 34 saves. San Jose’s Antti Niemi made 32 saves for his 27th win of the season. Niemi stoned Craig Smith, Andrei Kostitsyn and David Legwand in the three-round shootout.
“It’s absolutely a huge win for us,” said San Jose defenseman Dan Boyle. The assist on Thornton’s goal was Boyle’s team-high 34th helper of the year.
The Sharks were on their third power play of the game at the start of the third period. Boyle’s low shot from the top of the slot caromed off the stick of Patrick Marleau at the low slot and veered to the right circle for a waiting Thornton. The captain corralled the puck before lofting a shot over Rinne’s left pad for the equalizer.
“He’s a top-notch goalie,” Thornton said of Rinne’s performance. “We have so much confidence in (Niemi). This was a great hockey game by both teams.”
Nashville moved to within one point of second-place Detroit in the Central Division with one game in hand. The Predators play the Kings Saturday and Ducks Sunday.
San Jose was within five seconds of killing off a Nashville power play in the first period when Predator Patric Hornqvist received a pass from Mike Fisher at the left post and then spun to the top of the crease before sending a low shot past Niemi at the 13:18 mark.
After firing 28 shots on net through the first two periods, the Sharks managed only four shots in the defense-dominated third period, but Thornton’s goal set up the Clowe shootout heroics.
Marty Havlat skated 24 shifts while making his first appearance after a 39-game break because of a leg injury suffered on Dec. 17. Havlat, skating on the line with Marleau and Clowe, fired three shots on net.