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San Jose Sharks steal game from Columbus Blue Jackets

Patrick Marleau found the net twice on four shots and seven attempts, shut down an odd-man rush, recorded a takeaway and block but lost his only faceoff.
Patrick Marleau found the net twice on four shots and seven attempts, shut down an odd-man rush, recorded a takeaway and block but lost his only faceoff.Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

San Jose Sharks game

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Hockey pucks can bounce funny and sometimes the team playing best does not win. That was what allowed the San Jose Sharks to steal a game from the host Columbus Blue Jackets Thursday, March 13.

The Sharks may have three of the five pictured top stars of the game, but they were dominated for much of it.

They won two more faceoffs (33-31) but lost three more possessions via turnovers (5-3 giveaways and 5-6 takeaways). The Blue Jackets were able to expand on that narrow edge with a whopping 48-17 advantage in hits.

This resulted in 26 more attempts (71-45) and 11 more shots on goal (38-27). Even their 12-18 deficit in blocks was almost as high a ratio to shots allowed (2.25 vs. 2.11 shots per block) and a better percentage of attempts (26.7 vs. 25.4).

It is not unusual for a team with such dominating statistics to lose. It is very unusual when none of the goals can be blamed on their goalie. It is rarer still when the opposing goalie does not come close to a shutout.

Alex Stalock gave San Jose the edge in this position battle with some incredible saves, but still was not shutdown because he allowed three goals. None of them nor any of the three goals against the solid performance of counterpart Sergei Bobrovsky were saves either goalie should be expected to make, so the edge in net was not enough to compensate for the dominance of Columbus skaters.

Some lucky breaks and opportunism made the difference. The Sharks might be carrying over their ability to grind out wins from their injury-plagued games before the break for the 2014 Sochi Winter OIympics.

That mettle and the fact that they have now climbed to within half a game of the Pacific Division-leading Anaheim Ducks has them primed for a Stanley Cup run. The St. Louis Blues are the only other team in the Western Conference with a better record than San Jose. No Eastern Conference team has more points in the standings.

Meanwhile, getting even one point did well for Columbus in its battle for second place in the weak Metropolitan Division. That would mean home-ice advantage for the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.

There are five teams in the Eastern Conference that are separated by a total of 1.5 games fighting for the sixth-best record, including two within a half-game for second place in the Metropolitan Division.

Any road win against a team in position for a Stanley Cup playoff berth deserves a passing grade, even if that team would not qualify in the Western Conference. The Sharks would have had a truly good grade if not for their power play.

Columbus took the lead just over five minutes into the game: Nick Foligno stole the puck and took Justin Braun's hit to feed Boone Jenner, who found Ryan Johansen in the slot for the wrist-shot past Stalock. It was 5:25 later that Logan Couture took the puck away in the corner and fed a wide-open Patrick Marleau in front of the crease for the redirect, and that score stood until intermission.

That was before the power play had a chance to mess things up. RJ Umberger took the first penalty of the game in the first minute of the second, tripping Joe Thornton who then drew David Savard's high-sticking penalty to give San Jose 35 seconds with a two-man advantage.

Not only was it squandered, but Umberger came out of the box to get a shorthanded goal (Brandon Dubinsky got the only assist). The Sharks were on their heels after that, being out-shot 16-7 in the middle frame. Only because of Stalock were they able to stay in the contest.

Just 12 seconds into the third period, Marc-Edouard Vlasic slapped the puck on net and it produced a juicy rebound. Couture just got his stick on it and that helped settle it for Matt Nieto to clean up.

Dubinsky later gave his team life by getting a slashing penalty for taking Braun's stick out—Columbus got a great two-on-one against another horrible power play. However, Marleau shut down the pass and Stalock took care of the shot, leaving San Jose with a four-on-two rush the other way.

Dan Boyle got the puck to Joe Pavelski, who continued to show off his set-up skills with a feed to the slot for Marleau's second goal. It is always nice to see players get rewarded for great defensive plays like closing a passing lane that do not show up in the statistics.

Unfortunately, the Sharks could not hold the lead. Dubinsky got the puck from Matt Calvert to James Wisniewski all alone coming down from the point. Stalock went further out to challenge the defenseman than any goalie in memory, but so much time to shoot turned into a slap-shot tying goal.

San Jose had to kill a penalty late that extended into overtime, but managed to get this to a shootout where Pavelski had the only score to get the two points. This raised the record against the Eastern Conference—providers of four of the next five opponents, including the New York Islanders Friday—to 19-6-3, and the road record to 18-13-3.

Columbus fell to 19-11-3 at home and 10-10-3 vs. the Western Conference.