Sharks get much needed 2-1 win over Leafs

February 24, 2012, 2:30 am
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TORONTO It didnt have to be pretty. It just had to be a W.

The Sharks put an end to their season-long four-game losing streak on Thursday night in Toronto at the Air Canada Centre, 2-1. Patrick Marleau scored twice and Antti Niemi made 29 saves in a key rebound performance personally, and the Sharks improved to 2-4-1 on their nine-game road trip.

The team leaders Marleau and Joe Thornton, in particular did just that in a game that lacked scoring chances on both sides.

Obviously, when you go on a slide like that its got to be everybody, but definitely guys look to the leaders to get their game going and everybody kind of follows that way, said Marleau, who tallied his eighth game-winning goal this season. It was a good team effort tonight, and we had everybody going.

Todd McLellan said: They did what they had to do as leaders. Patty is always really motivated to play against Toronto, and Jumbo, playing at home, you could tell this morning he was excited. He was fidgeting a little bit and getting ready to go.

Thornton hails from nearby London, Ontario, and was among the best players on the ice. He set up Marleaus first goal just 32 seconds into the second period, finding him open in the faceoff circle with a perfect backhanded pass from the corner after a hard forecheck by Tommy Wingels.

Marleaus second came on a deflection midway through the second, tipping a wrister from Logan Couture on the power play at 10:43.

To get that first goal was huge, Thornton said. We kind of grabbed some confidence off of that, and the power play has been hot so that was nice to get one to get one there.

In its last 15 games, the Sharks' power play is an impressive 17-for-46 (37.0 percent).

Just as importantly, the Sharks made the lead hold up. The club had a dubious streak of nine straight games surrendering at least three goals in regulation, but tightened up defensively in front of Niemi and held the speedy Leafs to just one goal. It came on a slap shot by Jake Gardiner in which Joffrey Lupul was screening Niemi early in the third period.

I think we were able to, from early on, not give them too many rushes with three-on-twos or two-on-ones, Niemi said. I think there were a couple rebounds that the Leafs werent able to get to, so we did a good job there, too.

Niemi finished with 29 saves and won for just the second time in his last eight starts. That included a pair on Matthew Lombardi in the third with his club nursing that 2-1 lead.

After Dan Boyle broke his stick on a slap shot in the offensive zone, Lombardi raced the other way with the puck and got a shot off from the faceoff circle that Niemi turned aside. Later, Lombardi flipped a loose puck in the slot towards the net that was frozen by the Sharks netminder with 8:21 to go.

The desperate Leafs, fighting to stay in the top eight in the Eastern Conference, swarmed around the net on a few occasions late in the game but couldnt find the equalizer despite a strong third period in which they outshot the Sharks, 16-9.

Niemi held his ground.

He looked very confident, which is what were looking for, McLellan said. He looked comfortable. His teammates felt good about his game. It looks like we have Nemo back, which is a good thing for us.

The goaltender played super. As long as we clear out the second and third opportunities, hes going to stop the first one, Thornton said.

In their previous nine games, the Sharks had allowed a combined 36 goals (4.0 per game), going just 2-6-1 in that span and falling into a tie for first place in the Pacific Division with Phoenix.
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The low point came on Tuesday, when they allowed four goals in the first period en route to a 6-3 thrashing by the NHLs last place Columbus Blue Jackets in which the Sharks were sloppy, undisciplined and suffered defensive breakdowns all over the ice.

Thursdays win, in which the Sharks didn't allow a single Maple Leafs power play, was a much better performance.

We corrected the discipline part. We werent going to the penalty box. We didnt give up that many odd-man rushes. Pretty solid defensively, McLellan listed.

Just huge points this time of year, especially because we have been struggling a little bit to play good defensive hockey like we did, Thornton said. They way weve been winning all year was good defensive hockey. To get back to that was huge.

The Sharks still have a chance to secure a .500 record with games in Nashville on Saturday and Minnesota Sunday.

Odds and ends: Joe Pavelski took a high stick on the opening faceoff in the second period, which is why Tommy Wingels was on the ice on Patrick Marleau's first goal ... Marleaus 33 game-winning goals are the most in the NHL since the start of the 2008-09 season Benn Ferriero was scratched while Torrey Mitchell returned to the lineup. Dominic Moore (lower body) and Douglas Murray (fractured Adams apple) were out for San Jose. The Sharks have won five of their last six against the Maple Leafs (5-1-0). Joe Thornton has five goals and 13 assists in his last 15 games. Logan Couture has nine goals and 11 assists in his last 15 games. Jim Vandermeer and Mike Brown engaged in a spirited fight with 17:12 left in the third.