Just in Time: Sharks Avoid Embarrassment

Win saves playoff hopes

Rob Blake's pinpoint pass onto the blade of Patrick Marleau's stick for the game-winning goal was driven by bug-eyed desperation, yet executed with calm precision.

That cool under pressure is exactly why San Jose acquired three seen-it-all Stanley Cup-winning defensemen last summer. When the Sharks' playoff hopes probably depended on one big play, Blake delivered it without a flinch.

Marleau scored the go-ahead goal on a power play with 9:27 left, and the Sharks evaded a daunting playoff deficit with a 4-3 victory over Anaheim in Game 3 on Tuesday night, trimming the Ducks' series lead to 2-1.

Dan Boyle had two goals and an assist, and fellow defenseman Blake had a goal and that exceptional assist on Marleau's winner for the top-seeded Sharks, who had scored just twice while losing the first two games of their series against the eighth-seeded Ducks at home, quickly falling into a playoff hole that might have been their grave.

Blake readily acknowledges the concern in the Sharks' dressing room just two games into their playoff run.

"It was desperation out there, and it turned up a level even late in this game," Blake said. "You saw the desperation in the way we worked and executed. Everyone chipped in, and we got the result."

Evgeni Nabokov made 27 saves for the Sharks, who realized any logical hope of winning the series hung on Game 3. San Jose took three one-goal leads in the first two periods, but Anaheim tied it each time.

After Corey Perry took a hooking penalty midway through the third period, Marleau came through with his ninth career playoff game-winner. The captain got his 36th career playoff goal while serving as a backboard for Blake.

"Blakey made that play off my stick," Marleau said. "The focus is on winning. It doesn't matter who's doing it for us. We had some good opportunities, and we were able to get some good bounces, finally."

The home team has never led in this all-California series, which continues with Game 4 on Thursday night. Game 5 is back at the Shark Tank on Saturday night.

Bobby Ryan, James Wisniewski and Chris Pronger scored for the Ducks, who kept pace with the Sharks' improved efforts, but never could take the lead in a lively, penalty-filled game. Hiller stopped 31 shots, but didn't have the indomitable form of the Ducks' first two victories.

"We got away just a little bit from the way we needed to play, especially early in the game," captain Scott Niedermayer said. "They came at us pretty good, and we didn't have that same response, I guess. We gradually got it going, but not enough."

Marleau also finally got going for the Sharks after barely making an impression in the first eight periods. Although Marleau has impressive career playoff stats, he's also notorious for occasional postseason lapses -- something that drove former coach Ron Wilson to criticize the captain repeatedly during their years of playoff disappointments.

"We're excited for him to get that one," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "We have held him accountable for his play over the last couple of games, and for him to come into this building and respond the way he did, is something we're happy about."

The Sharks' effort was a clear departure from their middling efforts in the first two games, when San Jose barely scored despite a 79-43 advantage in shots. The Sharks matched that goal total in the first 13:07 in Anaheim, including their first power play goal of the series on their 14th man-advantage, and took 20 shots in the first period alone.

With the Sharks showing life from the opening faceoff and the Ducks on their usual edge of legality, there were 26 penalty minutes in the first period of Game 3, with six penalties in the first 6 minutes -- including a 4-minute high-sticking call on Marleau just 17 seconds in.

"It took a while for us to get our feet underneath us," Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said. "It seemed like we were battling back all night. We didn't generate much from a standpoint of offensive zone time, and we turned the puck over far too many times."

San Jose claimed its first lead of the series about 5½ minutes in with a goal by Blake, the 39-year-old defenseman who spent nearly 14 seasons just up the 5 freeway with the Los Angeles Kings. His shot from the point went through traffic and deflected off the left skate of Anaheim's Drew Miller.

After Ryan evened it when Nabokov kicked a rebound into his own net, Boyle put the Sharks back ahead with their first score of the series on a power play, slipping a short shot just over Hiller's outstretched pad. Wisniewski tied it again with his first career playoff goal, slipping a low shot past Rob Niedermayer's screen.

Boyle scored his second goal early in the second, but Pronger tied it again by slamming home Joe Pavelski's turnover in the slot for his 20th career playoff goal.

San Jose looked for an energy boost from center Torrey Mitchell, who played for the first time all season after breaking his left leg on the second day of training camp. The speedy forward has been skating with the club for a few weeks, but his addition to the lineup was a last-minute surprise.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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