SAN JOSE – A couple hours after Joe Thornton’s three-year contract extension was announced on Friday, the Sharks captain said he didn’t really have any plans to celebrate his new deal.
Saturday’s two-goal effort, including the game-winner in overtime, showed otherwise.
Thornton’s slap shot from the top of the circle with a minute and a half left in the extra session gave the Sharks their sixth consecutive win, 3-2 over the Minnesota Wild at SAP Center.
Patrick Marleau, who signed a three-year deal of his own on Friday, scored the tying goal in the second period, making it a productive night for arguably the two best players in franchise history that will both be here for several more years.
“For me and Patty both to score, it’s a great night for us,” Thornton said.
Marleau added: “It’s a nice coincidence, that’s for sure.”
While the end result was favorable, it wasn’t a perfect night for the home team. The Sharks were controlling the pace until Thornton’s neutral zone turnover led to the first Wild goal from Matt Cooke midway through the first, and some defensive zone sloppiness early in the second resulted in a marker from Keith Ballard to make it 2-0, Minnesota.
An increase in the physicality, and a couple adjustments from coach Todd McLellan helped to turn the tide. Shortly after Jason Demers and Zach Parise were engaged in an aggressive shoving/wrestling match at the side of the net, Thornton cut the Wild lead to 2-1 on a pass from Joe Pavelski. Matt Nieto, who switched places with Brent Burns on the Thornton line, was also on the ice for the goal.
“We tried a few different things. Actually, it may have been Minnesota, because we were sleeping,” McLellan said. “I thought Zach Parise was real physical one shift on Demers, and maybe that woke us up a little bit. We sure weren’t very sharp.”
Thornton said: “It was actually a big hit by their guy that kind of woke up the bench. We started off good and it went away, but they laid out a big hit – I’m not sure on who – and it kind of woke us up. We really got going after that.”
Defensively, the Sharks got better in their own zone after the Ballard goal. They allowed just four shots on goal in the third period and two in overtime, and outshot the Wild 32-22 for the game. It was the eighth time in the last nine games the Sharks have allowed fewer than 30 shots in a game.
“We regrouped,” Matt Irwin said. “Maybe it took a little bit to regroup, but we finally did, and we came together."
The NHL’s hottest goal-scorer, Pavelski didn’t find the back of the net for the first time in five games. Instead, he acted as playmaker, setting up Thornton on the first goal and then controlling the puck and sliding it to him in overtime on the winning goal.
Pavelski now has seven goals and three assists in his last five games.
“I’ve been telling Pav, ‘You’ve been scoring too much. Start passing the puck.’ And he finally listened,” Thornton joked. “I don’t [shoot] too often, but Pav just made two good plays, and luckily I put them in.”
McLellan said: “Really good play by him at the blue line to protect the puck long enough and stay strong so that he could get somebody to come and help him. … He’s just been a really good player for us lately. I keep saying the same thing every night. I hope I can finish the year out that way.”
The Sharks will try and complete a perfect four-game homestand on Monday against the rival Kings. San Jose (34-12-6) now has a full 10-point lead on Los Angeles (29-18-6) for second place in the Pacific Division, with one game in hand.
They’ll likely have to play a more complete game, as the Kings and Sharks always seem to stage heavy, competitive matches against one another. In the meantime, they’ll relish a memorable night for their two veteran stars.
“They're our guys,” Irwin said. “It's just kind of ironic what happened."