Another blown third-period lead was a wasted opportunity for the San Jose Sharks, as the other three top teams in the Pacific Division lost. The Philadelphia Flyers rode four goals in the final frame to their first head-to-head win in over 13 years.
Four Flyers are among the pictured stars of the game for big plays to make that happen, while one Shark gave his team a first-period lead. That being said, this was correctly termed a “stinker” by radio commentator Jamie Baker after the game because of the team-wide failure.
San Jose won five more faceoffs (36-31) and had one more takeaway (11-10) but a whopping 16 more giveaways (27-11) in a sloppy game. Defensive breakdowns led to two scores and two should have been stopped by Antti Niemi. Philadelphia attempted 15 more shots (61-46) and got six more on goal (28-22) while still getting one more hit and blocking (17-20) a larger percentage on shots.
The first period did not start out well for the Sharks: Mark Streit scored on the power play from a Claude Giroux feed and through a Wayne Simmons screen (Scott Hartnell got the secondary assist) just over four minutes into the game. However, Matt Nieto got that one back about three minutes later when the Flyers were killing a penalty: Tommy Wingels got to Matt Irwin’s dump-in and fed it across the front of the crease for a crashing Matt Nieto to redirect home.
San Jose added another five minutes later, as Brent Burns dug a Joe Thornton dump-in out from the corner and into the slot. Nieto scooped it up, deked goalie Steve Mason into the butterfly and then reached his shot around the right pad with a forehand for the first multi-goal performance of the rookie’s NHL career.
Though Philadelphia had only seven shots and could not score in the second period, the momentum swung to the guests as Mason faced only five shots. In the third period, the game broke open. Fixing the third period is something this team has to do to go deep in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Flyers scored on three of their first four shots and four of nine in the final frame. The first deflected off Irwin’s stick a little, but Niemi appeared to have time to react as it was right off the shot. The next was a rebound that no defender cleaned up, then a shot through the legs of Dan Boyle that nonetheless should have been saved.
Alex Stalock came in for Niemi, and had no chance on the goal he gave up. Other than Nieto, the Sharks played terribly. The timing is bad, as the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks all lost. Instead of gaining a game in the Pacific Division standings on all three, another 26th of the season is gone without gaining in ground against rivals and even losing it to other teams in the deep Western Conference.
Anaheim is four games ahead and Los Angeles 5.5 back, with Vancouver a game behind that. The chances of San Jose not finishing in second place in the Pacific Division are already slim, and that brings on the very real potential there will be only one Stanley Cup playoff series with home-ice advantage. The two most likely teams to get through in the Western Conference finals both sit 2.5 games ahead.
Perhaps more importantly, it could bring complacency. This team has been known for lacking urgency, and those habits might only increase as games at the end of the season become meaningless. That would be very dangerous in the hotly-contested Western Conference that has five of the six teams at the top of the NHL standings.