Sharks rally to send Leafs further into tank
The Toronto Maple Leafs drop+ped their third straight game on their West Coast road swing in heartbreaking fashion as the San Jose Sharks rallied for a 3-2 comeback win at HP Pavilion on Saturday.
Joe Pavelski's deflection at 9:39 of the third as a power play expired capped the comeback for San Jose, and spoiled what was the Leafs best two periods of hockey on an otherwise disastrous trip.
Patrick Marleau notched a goal and an assist, while Joe Thornton added two assists for the Sharks (25-12-6), who scored three unanswered goals in the third period to extend their home unbeaten streak to four games (3-0-1) to start the New Year.
Craig Rivet scored San Jose's second goal, while Evgeni Nabokov stopped 23 of 25 shots to earn the win.
Even though he put in a solid effort, the loss spoiled the return of Vesa Toskala to San Jose, where he played for five years before being traded to Toronto this past off-season. Toskala stopped 32 of 35 shots, and added an assist but couldn't stand tall when the Leafs became undisciplined in the third period.
"Tosk was playing unbelievable, [but] going into the third period with a power play was huge for us as long as we got the job done, and we did," San Jose head coach Ron Wilson said. "Once we broke the ice, we felt better and they felt worse, and you could see the difference from that point on.
"We were all over them, they took some penalties, and the next thing you know, it's lights out."
Nik Antropov and Pavel Kubina each scored to give the Leafs an early 2-0 lead, but the Sharks used two power-play goals and an even-strength goal as a penalty expired in the third to rally back.
"They played their guts out — three games in four nights," Leafs head coach Paul Maurice said. "With all the stuff they're dealing with and the weight … that's hanging on them, they came out and played hard.
"They deserved a better fate."
The Leafs have dropped five straight games overall, 11 of their past 13 and all three games on their road trip where they were outscored by a margin of 14-4.
The loss will also do little to quiet the rampant speculation that the departure of Maurice or general manager John Ferguson is imminent.
"There's a few teams in this league that when they get in a downward spiral, it's an extremely tough situation to get out of," Rivet said. "There's a lot of pressure coming from all different areas. Down here, when we lose one or two games, it's no big deal. We just go to the rink the next day, and we work hard to get out of it. There's no focus on the negatives … I know what they're going through."
Leafs look sharp in first period
The Leafs drew first blood courtesy of a goal from Nik Antropov at the 3:19 mark of the first period. The centre scored in his second consecutive game to give him 17 this season and his team a 1-0 lead.
With Marcel Goc serving a penalty for hooking, Kubina doubled the Leafs' lead while on the power play. Kubina took a feed from fellow defenceman Tomas Kaberle and skated hard into the Sharks' zone before unleashing a hard slap shot from inside the right circle. Nabokov attempted to squeeze the pads, but the shot beat him five-hole to stake the Leafs to a 2-0 lead just 1:46 seconds into the second period.
But the Sharks started to find their legs in the second, and finally bit back with a power play goal at the start of the third period. With Boyd Devereaux taking a two-minute minor for slashing with less than a minute left in the second period, San Jose started the third with a man advantage.
Patrick Marleau unleashed a long slap shot that Toronto defenceman Hal Gill accidentally deflected past Toskala for his eight goal at 1:09 of the third.
Two more penalties in the third period allowed the Sharks to come all the way back. With Gill and Jiri Tlusty both in the box serving penalties, Craig Rivet was able to unload a seeing-eye blast from the slot that went through a crowd and beat Toskala glove-side.
Rivet's fifth goal tied the game at 2-2 and swung momentum firmly in favour of the Sharks.
"Good teams like San Jose will come back if you give them a chance," Toskala said. "It's pretty frustrating. We need points badly so we can get back in the playoff race."