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San Jose Sharks stay on attack at Florida Panthers

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The San Jose Sharks are known for letting up on the attack against trailing or inferior teams. The pictured stars of the game made sure that did not happen for the Florida Panthers despite becoming both in their game Thursday, January 16.

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There was no letting up in this contest. As Joe Thornton pointed out after the game, the Panthers had been 11-5-1 in their last 17 games, and it was clear the Sharks were not going to overlook a team that had crawled back into the Stanley Cup playoff race in the Eastern Conference.

Nevertheless, Florida would have been easy to overlook. Only two teams in the Western Conference have a worse record.

Of course, that competition is exactly why San Jose cannot afford to overlook anyone. The Los Angeles Kings also won Thursday to stay within three points of second place in the Pacific Division for home-ice advantage in the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.

The five-game lead of the Anaheim Ducks is perilously close to being out of reach. That means probably ceding a sizable home-ice advantage to two very good teams just to win the Western Conference.

The Sharks played like the team with more on the line and more talent on the bench. Until the final minute of the second period, Tim Thomas needed every bit of his 2011 Stanley Cup form to keep the game scoreless.

Alex Stalock was rarely tested on the other end while his teammates built up a 39-24 edge in shots and 58-41 in attempts. They spent that much time on the attack despite winning five fewer faceoffs (22-27) and same number of turnovers (giveaways 3-5, takeaways 5-7). They also still managed a stout 14-6 edge in blocked shots—almost four times the rate per shot allowed (one per 1.7 vs. 6.5) and over three times the percentage of shots attempted (34.1 vs. 10.3 percent).

The only statistic that made sense with the others was hits (40-19 Panthers). The only minutes the game seemed in question was the start of each period.

Florida dictated play for more than 4:40 of the first and third periods, attaining respective edges in shots on goal of 5-0 and 3-1. In the middle frame, that poor start lasted almost 15 minutes. San Jose's effort seemed to be there, but poor execution led to a 9-2 deficit in shots until the final 5:02.

A late shot gave the Panthers a faceoff in the attack zone with 2:19 left. After the television timeout, they won the draw and had two more attempts before Joe Pavelski could get the puck to Brent Burns. Thornton broke for the neutral zone and took a pass perfectly banked off the boards that had to make the pass-happy captain envious.

Instead of pulling up for someone to set up, Thornton put the breakaway goal in the near-side top corner for the first lead of the game. The transition game created the next goal early in the third, too.

After Stalock turned aside Scottie Upshall's shot, Patrick Marleau advanced the puck to Tyler Kennedy headed into the attacking zone with speed. Stretching the defenders deep, the struggling winger put a shot on goal Thomas turned aside, but Matt Nieto was first to the juicy rebound and gave the Sharks a 2-0 lead.

Instead of letting up, they kept attacking. With just over eight minutes left, a Brad Stuart shot went from Brent Burns to Pavelski for another rebound goal. Even after that the Panthers faced more shots (4-3) despite having more attempts (7-4).

With the first win against Florida in Todd McLellan's tenure as head coach, San Jose moved to 11-4-2 against the Eastern Conference and 14-10-3 on the road. A matinee against the impressive Tampa Bay Lightning will end the road trip Saturday.

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