Milan Michalek scored the San Jose Sharks' eventual winning goal on a graceful give-and-go sequence. It looked much like many other big scoring plays by the overall NHL leaders this season, except for the unlikely identity of the giver.
Michalek converted a shockingly slick setup pass from 6-foot-6
defenseman Alexei Semenov, and Evgeni Nabokov made 31 saves while the Sharks moved past Detroit again atop the league standings with their third home victory in four days, 3-1 over the Colorado
Avalanche on Sunday night.
With the Sharks stretched to the limits of their depth by
several key injuries and the first-period ejection of Jonathan
Cheechoo for boarding, Semenov returned to the lineup after two
healthy scratches with just the second multipoint game of the
wide-wingspanned Russian's career.
Semenov was rewarded with a faceful of shaving cream from a
prankster teammate during a postgame interview, but after getting
the goop out of his eyes, he remained thrilled to contribute during
San Jose's playoff chase.
"I saw (Michalek) going to the net, and it was just
tic-tac-toe," Semenov said with a shrug belying the play's
difficulty. "Sometimes when you don't play for two or three games,
it's tough to give your best game, but the team needs me to step up
while (Rob) Blake is out. We're getting close to the end here."
Semenov also assisted on Jamie McGinn's goal earlier in the
second period while getting a rare turn on the Sharks' power play.
His slap shot from the point was tipped in by McGinn, who hadn't
scored a goal in 23 games since Nov. 4 while shuttling between San
Jose and the club's AHL affiliate in Worcester.
Such surprisingly capable fill-in play is the main reason why
the Sharks have moved one point in front of Detroit atop the
overall standings despite an injury list rivaling the length of the
healthy roster. Blake, the 39-year-old star defenseman, was the
latest subtraction after Saturday's win over Dallas, though he
shouldn't be out much longer.
"Considering the bodies (out of the lineup) and the amount of
hockey we've played, I was pleased," coach Todd McLellan said.
"It's a good time for our organization when that many players come
up and make an impact."
Devin Setoguchi added an empty-net goal, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic
also had two assists for San Jose, which took advantage of an
unusual cluster of Shark Tank appearances to get back in the race
for the franchise's first Presidents' Trophy.
With their fifth win in six games, the Sharks improved their
NHL-leading home record to 30-3-4 and earned their 106th point, two
off the team record and one more than Detroit in the NHL standings.
Both teams have 10 games left.
"For sure we want to finish first, because that gives you the
best playoff position," Michalek said. "It's down to the end now,
so we've got to try to get every point to be sure we have a
Longtime Sharks defenseman Scott Hannan scored his first goal of
the season for the last-place Avalanche, who lost their fourth
straight and 11th in 14 games despite several good late chances and
a full game of solid play against San Jose's injury-shuffled
Andrew Raycroft stopped 25 shots for Colorado just three days
after the club's 8-1 loss to Edmonton - the worst home defeat in
"We competed better than we did the other night," left wing
Ryan Smyth said. "We got the puck deep and had plenty of chances,
but it was a special teams game. They capitalized on their power
plays, and we did not. It's a privilege to be on the power play,
and we just didn't have it tonight."
The Sharks lost Cheechoo when he drove defenseman Lawrence
Nycholat headfirst into the boards in a corner near the Colorado
net. Nycholat was down on the ice for several moments before
skating to the dressing room under his own power.
San Jose killed off the ensuing 5-minute major power play with
unsurprising ease against an Avalanche roster with the NHL's
second-worst road power play.
"From start to finish, we played solid," said Colorado coach
Tony Granato, a former Sharks forward. "They are No. 1 for a
reason. We had our opportunities, but another reason they are so
good is their goalie. Nabokov played well all the way."
Colorado played the third period without right wing Marek
Svatos, who also injured his head at some point in the second
period. Granato said the Avalanche would know more after returning
Ruslan Salei returned to Colorado's lineup after a two-game
absence with a foot injury, but Nabokov stopped him on a breakaway
when he stepped out of the penalty box with about nine minutes to
Colorado will be back at the Tank on April 7.
Canadian rocker Neil Young, a Bay Area resident, attended the game.
Hannan, who was drafted by San Jose and spent eight years here,
finally scored in his 72nd game of the season. He's been a
disappointment in Colorado.