Rarely is any NHL game played in which both teams score a goal with their goalie pulled. That was the kind of wild game the pictured stars led the San Jose Sharks to victory over the Colorado Avalanche Monday, Dec. 23.
The game did not start as well as San Jose would have liked. With 8:55 to go, Colorado launched its 11th shot while having faced just five.
Forty seconds into the first power play of the game, Ryan O'Reilly fed Nathan McKinnon, whose snap-shot goal was the second to deflect off Andrew Desjardins in three games. Erik Johnson got a secondary assist on the play.
That may have been the first power play, but was far from the first penalty. There were two fights in the first half of the first period.
Former Shark Jamie McGinn fought Brad Stuart two minutes before the goal and Cody McLeod fought Mike Brown a little over two minutes into the game. It was as if both teams had bad blood left over from the 2010 Western Conference quarterfinals, except only the Avalanche fighters were involved in that series and one wore the other sweater.
That intensity was then translated to on-ice play for both teams, but Colorado had been the first to see results. San Jose's response was strong, getting eight of the next 12 shots. Brent Burns helped Joe Thornton corral the puck behind the net on their first power play, and Jason Demers put the feed through traffic into the corner from the left circle.
For over two minutes starting with the Avalanche giveaway at the close of their power play and ending with blocking a Justin Braun shot, the Sharks had the only six shot attempts. Yet when Paul Stastny got the puck from PA Parenteau and advanced it up the boards, the defenders over-committed and he found Gabriel Landeskog alone in the slot for the go-ahead goal with 49 seconds left before intermission.
San Jose really responded with 21 of 26 shots and the only two scores of the second.
In the first six minutes, Matt Irwin got the puck to Thornton, whose pass from the half-boards to the near circle was snapped home by Burns to tie it. On the team's second power play about seven minutes later, Tommy Wingels fed Dan Boyle, whose pass Irwin slapped home through traffic.
With about five minutes left in regulation, Colorado put a push on. All seven shot attempts over the next three-plus minutes were sent at Antti Niemi.
The fourth one on goal came just after a power play that should never have been, and was the first with the goalie pulled: Matt Duchene fed O'Reilly, whose rebound came back to Johnson for the slap-shot game-tying goal through traffic.
Twelve seconds later, the Avalanche tallied another: Maxime Talbot got the puck to John Mitchell, whose shot was deflected by McGinn over Niemi's shoulder from the sharp angle. With only 99 seconds remaining, the Sharks won the faceoff and got the puck deep so they could pull their goalie.
After registering two attempts and a shot on goal over the next minute-plus, Burns again got the puck to Thornton behind the net. The captain got his third assist feeding Joe Pavelski in the slot for the one-timer goal to tie the game.
Despite a 5-2 edge in overtime shots, San Jose could not finish off Colorado until the shootout. Niemi turned away both his shots faced while Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau buried the second and third attempts of the home team to seal the win.
The Sharks were clearly the better team outside of two deflected goals and a two-man advantage (with the goalie pulled) that never should have been. Take away 12 very fortuitous seconds for the Avalanche in the third period and the first 11 minutes of the game and they were not even in this contest.
Overall, San Jose held the edge in virtually every statistic: 42-30 faceoffs yet still with more takeaways (15-4) and fewer giveaways (13-17) leading to a 45-33 edge in shots on goal and 90-65 in attempts. Nevertheless, Colorado was out-hit 29-21 and still was called for one more penalty. Even the edge of 26-22 in blocked shots represents a smaller percentage of attempts faced and ratio to shots allowed.
The win keeps the Sharks in third in the Pacific Division, good enough for a spot in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs. They moved one game closer to the Los Angeles Kings, who they would catch with a win in their game-in-hand.
The Avalanche failed to gain ground on the losing St. Louis Blues, who remain two games ahead in second place in the Central Division. The fourth-place Minnesota Wild are over three games back after another loss and would not even qualify for a wild card berth to the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs in the competitive Western Conference.
The only thing that kept it from being perfect was essentially one defensive breakdown and a few bad breaks. The question is can they keep the momentum going on the road Friday and then against the Pacific Division leader for the home-and-home series that ends 2013?