The San Jose Sharks were well on their way to their fifth winning streak of at least six games over the last 53 weeks when their game began Saturday, January 25. What should have been deemed a giveaway by Joe Thornton in the boxscore allowed the Minnesota Wild to control the first half of the game anyway.
It was not those too-frequent mistakes but what followed that is why he was just signed to an extension along with the next pick atop the 1997 NHL draft, Patrick Marleau. The San Jose captain took the game back what has recently become no longer San Jose's Achilles heel—the second period. The two of them certainly earned their spot among the pictured stars of the game, but they certainly had help.
The Sharks came out like gangbusters, getting eight of the first 10 shots on goal until what was deemed a takeaway by Matt Cooke turned the game. The potentially-reformed instigator skated in on the breakaway, deked Antti Niemi and put the puck in the top corner with just over eight minutes to go in the first.
The Wild seized momentum, getting the next five shots on goal as well. Even as their possession disadvantage grew to 23 faceoffs (18-41) while they managed to still be on the wrong side of giveaways (13-8) and takeaways (7-8), they endured by blocking shots (26-11) and getting great play in net from Darcy Kuemper.
Things looked even better after stay-at-home defenseman Keith Ballard pinched up and was fed from behind the net by Mikael Granlund for the one-timer goal (the secondary assist went to Jason Pominville). They appeared on their way to being the third road team in the 2013-14 NHL season to win in San Jose.
Then just over 11 minutes into the second, Thornton took the puck away and eventually got it back after Matt Irwin had dumped it deep for Joe Pavelski behind the net. While the feed was not in his wheelhouse, he was able to redirect it to the top corner.
Irwin also started the next scoring play. Gritting out a minor injury, he advanced the puck to Tommy Wingels in the neutral zone. The young winger whiffed on his shot attempt but pulled up to throw it across the front of the crease. He may have been going for Brent Burns alone on the far wing, but Marleau redirected it by Kuemper to tie the game just 49 seconds after Thornton's goal.
There would be no more scoring in regulation. In the final two minutes of overtime, Thornton helped Pavelski keep the puck in and shot a slap-shot winner in right after getting it back. Getting that win without the shootout is very important in the tight Western Conference standings.
Their possession advantage was a big reason the Sharks had a 71-45 edge in shot attempts, and they still managed a 27-20 edge in hits. The only thing are they were out-played was blocks, with about a two-thirds success ratio compared to the Wild in blocks to shots and attempts allowed, keeping shots on net to just a 32-22 margin.
San Jose's special teams were also better, though neither team scored in two power plays. Minnesota managed no shots on either chance but faced three total in their two times shorthanded.
This was not a dominant performance, but one good enough to control most of the game. More importantly, the win allowed the Sharks to stay within nine points of the Anaheim Ducks for first place in the Pacific Division, with two games in hand. The Los Angeles Kings were shut out at Dodger Stadium Saturday by their cross-town rivals, falling 10 points back of second place.
That spot is important for home-ice advantage in the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, especially for California teams that are a combined 56-9-8 in their own buildings during the 2013-14 NHL season. It could also be important for reducing travel and avoiding a Western Conference final with an extra road game.
With the loss, the Wild's lead for a wild-card berth in the Western Conference stays at one game. The Phoenix Coyotes can earn that final spot by merely winning their three games in hand, but the point earned by getting this game to overtime technically means the Vancouver Canucks are a point back in the last wild card spot even though they have two games in hand.
Only three Eastern Conference teams have better records than Minnesota despite dramatically easier schedules so far in the 2013-14 NHL season. Beating the team with the 11th-best record despite that adversity is no small feat, and gives San Jose the league's fifth-best record.