SAN JOSE – Not even an utterly dominant, record setting third period performance could help the Sharks out of the hole they dug themselves through the first two periods of a 3-2 loss to the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night at SAP Center.
Trailing 3-1 after 40 minutes, San Jose poured 29 shots on Roberto Luongo, a new franchise record for most in a period and the most for any NHL team in a third period since the start of the 2005-06 season. The former Canucks goaltender stopped all but Brent Burns’ swipe at a loose puck with 3:03 to go, which was maybe the softest attempt of all 29. Joe Pavelski had a great chance in the slot to tie it with about 30 seconds left, but Luongo fought it off to preserve the Florida win. The goaltender turned away 52 of 54 total.
[Instant Replay: Luongo confounds as Sharks come up short]
“Maybe we decided to play,” said Logan Couture, when asked what changed to start the third. “I think the first two, we were cheating ourselves, trying to look for offensive chances, leaving the zone, too many mistakes. It’s tough giving away points right now.”
Todd McLellan said: “We started average and didn’t get better, and then fell asleep. There wasn’t a lot of emotion in the game, a lot of drive [on] our behalf, then fell asleep and tried to get desperate at the end. You can’t win. It doesn’t matter what league you’re in, you can’t win like that.”
The result was the Sharks failing to take over sole possession of first place in the Pacific Division for the first time since early December. They’re still tied with Anaheim with 97 points, with the Ducks holding one game in hand as well as the tiebreaker of more regulation/overtime wins. The Ducks lost to Washington on Tuesday.
Not even four power plays in the third period, against the league’s worst penalty-killing team, could get the Sharks any closer before Burns’ late goal. That includes almost a minute of time on a two-man advantage, thanks to consecutive minors by Florida’s Dylan Olsen and Quinton Howden.
Marty Havlat’s power play goal spotted the Sharks a 1-0 lead in the second period, and the power play had some chances in the third period, too. Still, the 1-for-6 now gives the Sharks just four power play goals in 65 opportunities over the last 20 games (6.2 percent).
“It’s not good enough, simple as that,” Couture said. The power play, with the talent we have to put on the ice, one goal tonight, but to not score – I don’t know what we are, two-for it seems like 100. It’s unacceptable. It’s on us, the players who go out there and play the big power play minutes, myself included. It needs to be better. It needs to help win us games.”
Joe Thornton said: “Our power play really had a chance in the third to do something. Just didn’t capitalize. They were trying to give us the game it felt like, but the power play just couldn’t get anything going.”
Despite the disappointment of Tuesday, the Sharks, who had a six-game winning streak snapped, aren’t exactly banging their heads against the wall just yet. They lost in regulation for just the second time since the end of the Olympic break, are 10-2-1 in their last 13, and can still grab first place in the Pacific with Anaheim visiting on Thursday in what will be the biggest game of the season so far.
According to Boyle, Tuesday’s questionable effort could serve as a reminder for the last dozen games of the regular season.
“I think the effort overall in the third was desperate. I guess that’s one of the good things you can take out of it,” Boyle said. “But, a loss is a loss.”
“Unfortunately tonight we didn’t get it done, but that’s life in the NHL. You’re not going to win every game. This is certainly one we would have liked to win, of course. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t, but we’ve got to keep going.”