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San Jose Sharks extend streak with win over Toronto Maple Leafs

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Nine of the San Jose Sharks went home ahead of the game scheduled for Tuesday, December 3.

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The six of those eight pictured Ontario players—ironically not the two from the largest Canadian city, the injured Raffi Torres and scratched Matt Pelech—pictured all took the ice against the Toronto Maple Leafs within hours by car of their childhood homes. Mike Brown is also on the list because he returned to the Air Canada Centre that he called home as recently as March.

The Sharks continued the winning streak that encompassed their last home stand. They dominated over 80 percent of the game and were able to come away with a regulation win on the road against a team that still holds a spot in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.

True, this is in the weak Eastern Conference. If Toronto was in the Western Conference, they would be the 10th seed and six points out of the Stanley Cup playoff picture.

That has been obvious in San Jose's 10 games against the Eastern Conference: 4-1-0 on the road, 4-0-1 at home and one second away from being unbeaten in regulation. A simple look at the top of the standings tells it all the more: Western Conference teams occupy eight of the top-10 spots.

The disparity is summed up by saying that the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins are the only Eastern Conference teams that would qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs in the Western Conference. The former is San Jose's next visit Thursday, and they have earned their top status in the Metropolitan Division that has only one other team over .500.

The two teams were also headed in different directions: San Jose had a 5-0-0 run compared to Toronto's 1-3-2 since they both took the ice November 21. But a win over a playoff team three time zones away from one's current home is still commendable.

The Sharks took control early and had something to show for it by the mid-point of the period. The fourth line was creating tremendous pressure, and Andrew Desjardins came up with the near the boards. He saw Jason Demers pinching down and got him the puck to fire on net. Mike Brown's tip-in seemed clear enough, though not to the normally astute broadcast team.

They kept the pressure on, drawing successive penalties that led to an extended two-man advantage. Dan Boyle got a pass through the reach of one defender to Joe Pavelski on the left wing. Joe Thornton was the recipient of a tremendous feed across the slot from his teammate and a screen of goalie James Reimer from his own captain, Dion Phaneuf. San Jose's captain gathered the puck and whipped it into the glove-side corner.

However, a James Sheppard interference penalty changed things. While the first penalty kill stayed on the attack for more than the first minute, Toronto's top-ranked home power play took over: 17 of the next 22 shots on net, including the two scores coming on the next two man-advantage opportunities.

Mason Raymond got a wrist-shot goal off an odd-man rush early in the second (Morgan Reilly and Carl Gunnarsson get the assists), but the next score was a thing of beauty for any fan. James Van Riemsdyk put a between-the-legs shot high off Antti Niemi that came to Tyler Bozak, who whipped the puck through traffic across the deep slot to Phil Kessel for the easy game-tying goal less than half-way through the game.

The Sharks held their hosts to 10 shots the rest of the game. Their go-ahead goal was a thing of beauty for any coach. Brad Stuart got the go-ahead goal as he skated it deep along the boards and threw it off a defender.

While any coach could certainly be thankful for a fortunate bounce resulting in a score, it was how it came about that would make any coach delight. It was the culmination of holding the puck in the attack zone for 89 seconds, during which the Sharks able to make a full line change—first from the fourth line to Pavelski's third line and then from Demers and Scott Hannan to Stuart and Boyle, who received the only assist.

Toronto never recovered from what became Stuart's third game-winning goal—all three scored this season. Tommy Wingels had a nice pass to Logan Couture for the empty-net goal that was the second in a row to follow another Shark first passing up on a chance to shoot at the vacated cage.

The Great One was fond of saying that 100 percent of the shots you do not take do not go in. Closing NHL games is not the time to help teammates pad their points.

However, that is nitpicking. The Sharks did struggle a bit in the circle (32-35) but still played puck possession thanks to their 9-3 advantage in takeaways and the Maple Leafs contributing 10 more giveaways (17-7).

The subjective hit totals are too ridiculous to mention, but suffice to say the hosts did a lot more of it to compensate. They also blocked 10 more shots (19-9) than one of the NHL's best teams in that department to reduce an 86-48 deficit in shot attempts to just 41-30 in those on net.

It was not a dominant performance, but still an impressive way to start the Eastern Conference portion of this road trip.

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