SAN JOSE, Calif. — This was just the kind of test San Jose coach Todd McLellan wants for his team before the playoffs.
Playing a physical game against a desperate team, the Sharks managed to overcome three shots off posts and stellar goaltending from Carey Price to pull out a 3-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night.
Dany Heatley scored the tying goal and Manny Malhotra delivered the winner in a span of less than three minutes in the third period to rally the Sharks to the win.
“That’s the way it’s going to be down the stretch,” McLellan said. “I’m glad we got to play in that game. When you’re in the middle of it and down a goal, you’re wishing you could score. But we stuck with the plan and won the game. Those are good games for us to play in. I didn’t sense anybody going off on their own. They stuck with the program.”
Patrick Marleau scored a short-handed goal, and Evgeni Nabokov made 28 saves for the Sharks, who were coming off their first back-to-back regulation losses of the season.
This game appeared headed that direction with Price stopping almost everything San Jose sent his way and the posts doing the rest to help Montreal hang onto the one-goal lead.
But the Sharks finally broke through to win for just the third time in 17 games this season when they trailed after two periods. The Canadiens had been 19-1-0 when leading after two.
“It’s very good for our preparation for the playoffs,” Sharks defenceman Dan Boyle said. “You’re going to play in one of those games where the goalie is making big save, save after save. You can possibly get a little frustrated, which is easy to do. But we stuck with it. That’s a good character builder.”
With Roman Hamrlik in the penalty box for hooking, Heatley deflected Boyle’s shot past Price to tie it at 2 with 7:28 to play. Malhotra scored his 10th goal 2:33 later, one-timing a pass from Torrey Mitchell past Price to give the Sharks the lead.
Nabokov made it hold up, making a sharp glove save to rob Andrei Kostitsyn with 49.1 seconds remaining, prompting chants of “Nabby! Nabby!” from the appreciative crowd. Nabokov needed this kind of game after allowing six goals in less than two periods in Russia’s Olympic loss to Canada last week and four goals to New Jersey in a loss on Thursday.
“It was pretty frustrating,” said Scott Gomez, who had a goal and an assist. “We had a chance to take two points. Carey held us in there and they just got one by there at the end. We know we can play with anyone. That’s a great team over there.”
This was the only meeting of the season between the teams and it was a chippy affair almost from the start with hitting and jawing after nearly every whistle.
Early in the third period Scott Nichol hit the post for San Jose before being driven to the boards by Maxim Lapierre. Nichol was down for a few moments before getting up and yelling at the officials and Lapierre, while holding his right shoulder. There was no immediate word on Nichol’s condition but he did not return to the game.
“It was an Eastern Conference team so you don’t really expect that,” Boyle said. “They’re fighting for their playoff lives and we’re fighting to get our game back on track. It was a chippy game out there. Sometimes it’s good for the team to rally around that and get together. It was a very weird game, a lot of weird things happened out there but we stuck together and won the game.”
The teams traded goals in the opening minutes of the second period with Marleau tipping in Rob Blake’s point shot for a short-handed goal 53 seconds into the period to tie the game at 1. That gave Marleau a career-best 39 goals and ended a six-game goalless drought.
With Joe Thornton still in the penalty box for tripping, Gomez regained the lead for Montreal with 2 seconds remaining in the power play when his centring pass deflected through Nabokov’s legs. Gomez also set up Brian Gionta for Montreal’s first goal in the first period.
The Sharks put heavy pressure on Price the rest of the period. He made a glove save against Heatley after losing his stick. San Jose was awarded a penalty shot on the play because Montreal defender Hal Gill threw the goalie stick in Heatley’s direction, but Boyle hit the crossbar on his attempt. The Sharks won the ensuing faceoff and Heatley rocketed a shot off the post.
“My posts were working for me tonight,” Price said. “I’d buy them dinner if they’d eat.”
NOTES: San Jose has won five straight home games against Montreal since November 1999. ... Boyle is 0-for-3 in his career on penalty shots. ... Marleau scored 38 goals last season. ... Thornton played in his 900th career game. ... Canadiens D Paul Mara was scratched with an upper-body injury.