The San Jose Sharks played their last game before the break for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics Friday, February 7. Their win over the Columbus Blue Jackets was the first over their former Western Conference rivals in about two years.
Two of the five pictured stars made it close for the Blue Jackets, but a team effort allowed the Sharks to go into the break having taken three of four. That puts the previous three-game losing streak in the rear-view mirror and establishes a 9-4-0 record over the last 13.
More importantly, the team enters the break within striking distance of first place in the Pacific Division. Even a win by the Anaheim Ducks Saturday would make the gap just three games. San Jose is also back to fourth in the Western Conference standings.
Meanwhile, Columbus has followed a 12-3-0 run with two losses in a row to fall out of the Stanley Cup playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. The Metropolitan Division rival Philadelphia Flyers are a half-game up for third place, and the Detroit Red Wings a game up for the final wild card berth. Catching either will mean the postseason if no one else passes them.
This was the first game since January 20 the Sharks scored more than two goals in regulation. They needed 47 shots and 74 attempts, giving up just 21 and 50, respectively. To get there, they won 40 of 68 faceoffs and had just one more giveaway (6-5) with eight more takeaways (9-1). They even managed to have more blocks (17-13) and almost as many hits (23-26) despite the massive edge on the attack.
Complete performances like this one prepare teams for the Stanley Cup playoffs. Learning to win without two top scorers should make it all the better when everyone but Tomas Hertl is expected back after the break.
A complete performance would not have seemed necessary given the early lead San Jose established. Just over three minutes into the game, James Sheppard got hold of a puck from the right circle and fired it toward the net. Newly-recalled reserve John McCarthy got his first goal in over 1100 days when he (accidentally he admitted after the game) deflected it over Sergei Bobrovsky's shoulder.
It took the Sharks less than five minutes to get the next goal. A flurry of shots that were either blocked, missed or turned aside by Bobrovsky led to a defender's attempted clear of a Brent Burns shot. The puck came right to Scott Hannan pinching down from the point, and Patrick Marleau barely got a stick on the shot to get credit for the goal.
Just a few minutes later, the Blue Jackets appeared to get on the board when a puck came off Antti Niemi right to Boone Jenner. However, it was waived off for deflecting off his stick just above the level of the crossbar, and they would have to wait 18 seconds into the second period for Ryan Johansen to take advantage of a turnover by Joe Thornton for the unassisted goal from the slot.
Tommy Wingels got that goal back for San Jose in the first six minutes of the third period by winning a fierce battle for a rebound off shots by Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Jason Demers. However, Columbus bounced back just past the mid-point to make it a game on one of their four shots that got through in the final frame.
Demers put a weak pass off the boards behind his own net that Johansen corralled and passed between his legs to Nathan Horton. As it was being gathered in the slot, Jenner took it off his teammate's stick and fired it past Niemi before the goalie could even lock onto it.
The Sharks held from there to raise their Western Conference-leading home record to 22-4-3, and they are 13-5-3 against the Eastern Conference. The Blue Jackets are 8-9-2 against those who until this season were conference rivals, and fell to 13-13-3 on the road.