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Sharks sinking in standings because they can't stop third-period scores

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This is the same old San Jose Sharks after all.

Every season, they tease a little bit, making people think things might be different this time around, but in the end, it's always the same.

The Sharks are soft, and they can't close the door on anyone in the third period.

This has been the story for many seasons now, especially under current head coach Todd McLellan: the inability to secure third-period leads, even against the worst teams in the league, kills the San Jose squad over and over again.

And here we are again after Tuesday night's 3-2 overtime shootout loss to the bottom-of-the-barrel New York Islanders.

No one fears the Sharks. They've been outscored in the third period this season by a 30-28 margin, which doesn't seem like a lot, but too often they've let a one-goal lead evaporate late -- sending a game to overtime and a shootout.

And while San Jose is still 15-2-1 this year when entering the third period with a lead, too many of those 15 wins were earned in the overtime or shootout sessions when they didn't need to be.

Those extra minutes, the additional stress, add up, and that may be a reason why the Sharks blew a 2-0 lead on Tuesday night, at home, against the worst team in the Metropolitan Division this year -- a team that had lost ten straight, in fact.

If the Islanders can do it against the Sharks, any team can.

Heck, San Jose (19-6-6) has lost at home now to both the Islanders (9-18-5) and the Buffalo Sabres (7-22-2), the worst team in the Atlantic Division.

When the season ends, the Sharks are going to wish they had beaten those terrible Eastern Conference teams at home, because the lost points hurt in April and May when home-ice advantage in the playoffs matters.

(Remember that series last year against the Los Angeles Kings and home-ice advantage?)

It's just gotten to the point of acceptance, actually, that the Sharks will blow a third-period lead, even if they recover to win in the end. That's not what you want any opponent thinking -- what you want is an opponent knowing they cannot beat you in the third period, and that ain't San Jose, sadly.

Remember the 2011 playoffs. Remember the 2013 playoffs. Remember all the blown third-period leads in the 2012 season that left the Sharks so deep in the Western Conference standings.

This is not a team that scares opponents with the game on the line.

In the end, the puck stops here -- or else Antti Niemi lets it through. His overall numbers look good: 16-5-6 with a 2.28 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage.

But he plays too much and too often, and he gets tired: that could be one explanation for why San Jose has given up only 14 goals in the first period this year, while surrendering 28 and 30 in the second and third periods, respectively.

You have to get better as the game goes on, not worse. Tonight, against the Minnesota Wild at the SAP Center, the Sharks and Niemi have another chance to start building a new late-game reputation.

Whether they do or not depends on them.

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