Sharks' win boosts playoff hopes

Associated Press  |  Last updated March 23, 2012
The defense tightened, the bottom lines contributed and the San Jose Sharks put together the kind of complete performance that was lacking in two lackluster losses earlier in the week. Now they need to figure out how to duplicate this performance down the stretch if they want to make it back to the postseason. Daniel Winnik scored his first goal with San Jose to give the Sharks' playoff hopes a needed boost with a 2-1 victory over the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins on Thursday night. ''When you're in stressful situations it can slow you down, it can make you lethargic, it can make you tired if you allow it to,'' coach Todd McLellan said. ''But if you play free and put it aside and accept the challenge, then you're a little bit faster and you're a little bit fresher. I thought we had that tonight. We didn't have that in the last two games.'' Joe Pavelski scored early in the first period to let San Jose play from ahead and Winnik added insurance early in the third when he ended his 43-game drought without a goal as the Sharks showed much more life than they had against Anaheim and Los Angeles earlier in the week. Antti Niemi made 16 saves as the Sharks allowed a season-low 17 shots. The Bruins, coming off an 8-0 win Monday night against Toronto, didn't get on the board until Zdeno Chara scored with 4:15 remaining to cut the deficit to 2-1. They couldn't get any more and dropped their fourth straight road game - their longest skid since December 2009. Boston remained three points ahead of idle Ottawa for the Northeast Division lead with one game in hand. The Sharks had lost two straight and eight of 11 to put their playoff hopes in peril after making it all the way to the Western Conference finals the past two seasons. They remained in 10th place in the race for one of the eight playoff spots, but trail Dallas and Colorado by one point and are two points behind division-leading Los Angeles and Phoenix. ''We'll just take any win,'' captain Joe Thornton said. ''It was a good win tonight. We still have eight games to go and have a lot of work to do. We know what's at stake. Enjoy this but the next one is the most important game of the year and we'll be ready.'' The Sharks had the better of the play through two periods, outshooting the Bruins 20-9. But San Jose only led 1-0 on Pavelski's early goal because of strong play from Tim Thomas. Thomas made two tough stops on Dan Boyle in the second period before the Bruins nearly got the equalizer when Milan Lucic's deflection of a pass from David Krejci got past Niemi but hit off the crossbar. They finally got the lead early in the third when Andrew Desjardins took the puck from Tyler Seguin on a strong backcheck to start a three-on-two rush. He sent a cross-ice pass to Winnik, who beat Thomas with a high wrist shot for his first goal in 13 games since being traded from Colorado to San Jose. ''I'm not a guy that racks up the points,'' Winnik said.'' I thought since I came here I've been making some nice plays setting guys up. I know it's just a matter of timing.'' That gave the Sharks some breathing room that they needed when Chara banked a shot from behind the net off Niemi and in for the score. San Jose held on for the key win. ''The first half of the game we didn't generate enough in the offensive zone,'' Chara said. ''We were playing a lot on the outside. We were better as the game went on and started creating traffic and putting a lot of pucks on the net. The first half we did not play up to our potential and it was still a close game. But to win, you can't rely on playing well for 30 to 40 minutes, you have to go all out for 60 minutes.'' Now the Sharks need to duplicate that kind of performance against their Western Conference rivals. Seven of their remaining eight games are against the teams in direct competition for the final playoff spots. The Sharks struck first, capitalizing on a strong shift from their top line early in the opening period. Thornton fed Patrick Marleau from behind the net and Thomas made the initial save. But Pavelski was standing all alone at the edge of the crease and knocked in the rebound for his 27th goal that was the only score in the first period. ''They set the pace early in the game and it took us a long, long time to catch up to it,'' Boston coach Claude Julien said. ''We had a lot of players on the top lines looking sluggish. That makes it tough to generate anything. Even when we had the puck they came at is and took away our space.'' Notes: Boston has not won three straight games since a seven-game winning streak in December. ... Winnik's last goal was Dec. 15, 2011, against San Jose for Colorado. ... F Michal Handzus returned to the Sharks' lineup after missing six games with a lower-body injury and F Tommy Wingels was back after missing five games with an upper-body injury.
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