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SAN JOSE – Tommy Wingels has a knack for getting drilled at opportune times.
In last season’s first round against Vancouver, Wingels got under the skin of the Canucks so badly that he drew several penalties that led to goals, including the game-tying and game-winning markers in the clinching Game 4.
In the biggest game of the season on Thursday against the Ducks, Wingels was leveled into the end boards twice in succession by Anaheim defenseman Luca Sbisa. The roughing penalty led to the Sharks’ first goal by Patrick Marleau on the power play.
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Wingels seemed to be an early target, getting run by Bryan Allen before the Sbisa incident.
“Like I said before the game, these are more physical games. There’s less space out there,” Wingels said. “By being physical, the attempt is to try and create space for your linemates. Whether you’re getting hit, or giving hits out, I think it’s an effective way to do that. Something I tried to do tonight.”
The forward wasn’t sure if he was specifically targeted, pointing out that he didn’t even play in the most recent meeting on Dec. 31 in Anaheim due to injury.
“I don’t know. They seemed to take exception when I finished my checks in there on the forecheck,” he said. “That’s OK with me. If they’re going to take a penalty, we’re going to make them pay. Our power play did that tonight.”
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Todd McLellan downplayed the significance of the game in the days leading up to it, and maintained that tone even after it was over.
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“In my opinion it wasn’t a must win for either team,” he said. “It was a nice win for our team tonight. But there’s still for us 22 points and 24 points left for them. There’s a lot of hockey left. When you start putting that pressure on individuals or groups that you have to win game 70, that’s a tough thing to maintain. We just want to get better night in and night out.”
Thornton, who agreed on Wednesday that it was the biggest game of the year, said there wasn’t too much talk before the game of going out and reclaiming first place.
"Not too much. We all realize where we are, but there wasn't too much said about getting first place,” said the captain.
“We've been hungry to win every night. We've been getting good goaltending and all four lines have been chipping in. We're just playing as a team right now."
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Bruce Boudreau wasn’t upset with his team’s performance, despite just 18 shots on goal, a season low. The Ducks were playing with a bit of a depleted lineup, and missing several key forwards.
"It was a pretty even game, all game,” Boudreau said. “A bounce goes their way, it goes in. A bounce doesn't go our way, it doesn't go in. It's a tough game, but that's what happens when you have two good teams going at it. It's tooth and nail all the way down. We made a mistake on the two-on-one (Thornton’s goal). It wasn't a good play, and those are the things that are going to cost you."
Ryan Getzlaf said before the game that the start was going to be key, as he expected the Sharks to come out hard in front of their home fans, which they typically do. Corey Perry said the Ducks handled the early pressure well.
"I thought we played a great period. I thought we weathered the storm,” Perry said. “We know they're going to come out the first five minutes and try to win the game right then and there. We weathered the storm. We stayed right with them. Yeah, they got a power-play goal, but we thought we did a great job."