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Not so golden return following break
Nabokov struggles in 4-3 loss
3/2/10 - By Mike Lee -

With the Olympics in the rear view mirror, the Sharks kicked off their 20-game sprint to the playoffs on Tuesday night. Problem is, they started that sprint with a slow jog and several slips in a sloppy 4-3 loss to the visiting New Jersey Devils at HP Pavilion. San Jose fell behind 4-0 before rallying late with a trio of goals that made things interesting, but in the end it still added up to a regulation loss.

Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov was anything but golden in his return to the ice after suffering that humiliating 7-4 loss to Team Canada last week in the quarter finals of the Olympic tournament. The Russian netminder was shaky, allowing a pair of goals on routine long-distance shots.

The Devil's Martin Brodeur showed no signs of his own poor Olympic showing early in the contest. He would snare a Dany Heatley blast with a wave of the glove hand 5 minutes into the game, allowing his teammates to settle into the game after the long hiatus.

"I thought we played with some energy early," said Sharks head coach Todd McLellan. "In the first period I thought the game was moving very fast. We asked ourselves as coaches was it because we hadn't played in two weeks or was it because the game was fast. We used up a lot of energy in that first period and we needed to get the lead."

Brodeur provided the Devils what Nabokov could not early on. Key saves.

"Martin Brodeur wanted to play in the Olympics like anyone would, he had a tough game that took him out of the competition, but he accepted it," said Devils head coach Jacques Lemaire. "He said that at least he would get rest and go back at it and play the best hockey that I can."

It took 27 minutes to finally crack the score sheet. Ilya Kovalchuk setup the game's first tally by throwing a puck at Nabokov from 18 feet. The Sharks netminder prevented the shot from getting past him momentarily. After making the initial stop, the puck dropped behind Nabokov, sitting precariously in the crease. Patrik Elias crashed in, punching it home for his 12th goal of the season.

New Jersey would use the momentum to pounce on San Jose a mere 35 seconds later. A clearing attempt in the Sharks zone pin-balled off rookie defenseman Jason Demers skate, allowing the Devils to retain possession in Sharks territory. David Clarkson would grab the deflection and whip a pass to rookie Mark Fraser at the Sharks blueline. Fraser snapped a long shot that sailed past Nabokov for the 2-0 lead. Nabokov seemed to have plenty of time to react to the shot and he had a good look at it, but he was unable to make the save.

The Sharks slit their own wrists when Manny Malhotra took a hooking penalty with 24 seconds left in the period. On the ensuing power play, Kovalchuk would throw a puck on net from the blueline that beat Nabokov to make it a 3-0 game. It appeared that Danius Zubrus tipped the shot in, but Kovalchuk was awarded the goal.

US Olympian Zach Parise teamed up with linemate Travis Zajak to make it a 4-0 game 5:44 into the 3rd period. Zajak took a cross ice feed near the top of the right circle and whipped his 20th goal of the season past Nabokov. The goal would turn out to be the game-winner, even though it gave the Devils a comfortable 4-goal cushion.

What made San Jose's comeback even more improbable was the fact that they scored on their first shot of the final frame nine minutes in. Devin Setoguchi grabbed a rebound in the slot off a Joe Thornton attempt and snapped home his 15th goal of the season.

Setoguchi would make it 4-2 less than two minutes later on a power play after Dean McAmmond was sent off for tripping. Rob Blake threw a shot on net that Broduer got a piece of, but the rebound kicked out to Setoguchi, who was lurking near the bottom of the left circle. The put back easily beat Brodeur and the Sharks were suddenly back in the game.

"A little too late for us, coming back from four nothing it's obviously tough to do in the 3rd period," said Setoguchi. "A little bit of resiliency from our team. A couple of mistakes in the end cost us some goals."

Silver medalist Joe Pavelski would cut the Devils lead to a single goal 57 seconds after Setoguchi's second tally. Working along the end boards behind Brodeur, Pavelski circled around the left post and put an attempt on net that kicked right back to him. His second chance wouldn't miss, as he lifted the shot over Brodeur's left pad.

"When we came in that second intermission, nothing had to be said," said Pavelski. "We knew what we did in the first part. We did some things well right away but we didn't get enough pucks on net. That make sit for an easy night for their goalie. No excuses. "

San Jose tried to bag the equalizer, but not before giving the Devils one more chance to put the game out of reach. With time ticking down, Kovalchuk found himself breaking on net toward his Russian teammate, Nabokov, but the netminder stoned the speedy forward with his best save of the game.

The Sharks couldn't muster that last goal, even after pulling Nabokov for the extra skater. For Pavelski, it was a subtle reminder of Team USA's comeback in the gold-medal game last Sunday that also fell short.

"It is great to get a win here," said Lemaire. "In a week from now, we will say that we got a win in San Jose , they won't say that they were coming back from the (Olympic Break). "

Game Notes:

Defenseman Niclas Wallin, acquired before the Olympic break made his home debut on Tuesday night, logging almost 22 minutes of ice-time on 27 shifts. He was +1, recoding four hits and blocking two shots. San Jose had the four gold and lone silver medals on display on the arena concourse during the game.


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Scoring
1 2 3 T
NJ 0 3 1 4
SJ 0 0 3 3
1st period - None.
2nd period - 1, NJ, Zubrus 6 (Elias, Kovalchuk), 11:13. 2, NJ, Fraser 3 (Clarkson, Salmela), 11:48. 3, NJ, Kovalchuk 33 (Parise, Zajac), 19:42, (pp).
3rd period - 4, NJ, Zajac 20 (Parise, Lagenbrunner), 5:44. 5, SJ, Setoguchi 15 (Thornton, Heatley), 8:46. 6, SJ, Setoguchi 16 (Blake, Clowe), 10:35, (pp). 7, SJ, Pavelski 17 (Malhotra), 11:32.
Penalties
1st period - Huskins, SJ (hooking), 6:25.
2nd period - Malhotra, SJ (hooking), 19:36.
3rd period - Thornton, SJ (interference), 0:29; McAmmond, NJ (tripping), 9:38.
Goaltending
Shots Saves
NJ - Brodeu 20 17
SJ - Nabokov 25 21
Shots On Goal
1 2 3 T
NJ 10 9 6 25
SJ 8 6 6 20
Power Play Conversion
NJ 1 of 3
SJ 1 of 1
3 Stars of the Game
Ilya Kovalchuk
Zach Parise
Devin Setoguchi
Attendence
17,562
Officials
Referees: Martell, Meier. Linesmen: Henderson, Lazarowich.
Holiday Gifts at BustedTees

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