Putting aside all of the uncertainly they’re facing as far as when they’ll be finally able to return to San Jose, the Sharks are about to enter another difficult part of their schedule.
The Sharks on Tuesday and Thursday face the Colorado Avalanche, the championship-ready team picked by many to finish atop the West Division this season. Then they’ll set up shop in Glendale, Arizona and play as the home team against the first place Vegas Golden Knights at Gila River Arena on Feb. 1 and 3.
At least the Sharks will entering this string of games with a little bit of momentum.
Brent Burns made sure of that.
Burns scored a dazzling go-ahead goal with 1:48 left in the third period to help give the Sharks a 5-3 win over the Minnesota Wild at Xcel Energy Center.
After a faceoff win by Tomas Hertl, Burns had his first shot attempt blocked by Nick Bonino. But he kept control of the puck, skated toward the net, dangled around Ian Cole, went back to his forehand to elude a stick check from Marcus Johannson, then again to his backhand to roof a shot past Wild goalie Kaapo Kahkonen for a 4-3 Sharks lead.
“Guys like that, elite players, they find ways to make huge differences in the game and that’s exactly what it was,” Sharks coach Bob Boughner said. “We needed that.”
“It kind of looked like he was losing the park a couple of times, but pretty fancy how he dangled around and put it in the back of the net,” said Sharks forward Timo Meier, who was right beside the Wild net when the goal happened. “It’s a huge goal for us.”
No question. The Sharks needed the boost after it found out Saturday that it would not be able to return home to play games in San Jose later this week because of Santa Clara County’s ongoing ban on contact sports.
The soonest the Sharks would now be allowed to come home is for their Feb. 13 game against the Anaheim Ducks and by that time, some San Jose players will have been on the road for eight weeks. It’s a been a grind, and moments like Sunday’s help everyone to push forward.
“Proud of the guys. It’s never easy winning on the road,” Boughner said. “We’ve been on the road together for a long time and it’s really important we collect some points at the beginning of the season and we found a way to win.
“That’s huge because last year, a lot of times we found a way to lose. So it’s important for the team for their confidence.”
Takeaways from Sunday night.
THERE’S ONLY ONE 88: Amid all of the changes the Sharks have undergone in recent seasons, from acquiring Erik Karlsson and Evander Kane via trade to losing icons like Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton to free agency, to a change behind the bench, the one constant has been the unique and special talent of Burns.
Burns leads the Sharks in point production over the last five-plus seasons, and it’s not even close. The 2017 Norris Trophy winner has 350 points since the start of the 2015-16 season, with Pavelski (276) and Logan Couture (262) second and third, respectively.
No has spent more time on the ice. No one has been more important to their power play, and, without question, no shoots the puck as often.
Even at 35 years old, in his 18th NHL season, Burns can be a difference-maker when he’s on his game like was Sunday night.
Burns logged a game-high 27 minutes and 32 seconds of ice time and was solid in his own end with Marc-Edouard Vlasic on his left side. He had seven shot attempts and blocked two shots of his own.
The goal, though, is what everyone was talking about later.
“It’s tough because you just want a goal at the end of the day, but when it happens like that you just, you can’t help but laugh because it’s just so outrageous,” said Sharks forward Ryan Donato, who had a goal and an assist Sunday.
“I think we just wanted any chance to finish the game, and to have a guy do it in style like that, it picks us up and hopefully creates momentum.”
COMING TOGETHER: The Sharks have talked for a few weeks now about how being on the road together all this time will help build team chemistry, and there’s probably some validity to that. After all, as a team without a real home base at the moment, they pretty have no choice but to turn to each other.
Ultimately, though, the way the Sharks are going to become a little more tight-knit is by staring down adversity together and competing for one another.
That’s what happened Sunday. After having already blown a two-goal lead, the Sharks needed a moment to rally around, and it came in the form of Jordan Greenway perhaps taking a few liberties with Tomas Hertl.
Hertl was down on the ice, having absorbed a puck shot into the back of his leg. The puck was underneath Hertl when Greenway tried to poke it free, also poking Hertl’s midsection in the process. The Sharks centerman didn’t take too kindly to it, got up and quickly lunged at the hulking Wild forward before a scrum ensued.
Burns got in the middle of it to stand up for Hertl, who was still smarting from being hit by the puck.
“Those kind of plays happen,” Burns said. “I just thought he was kind of taking some liberties with Hertl there. It’s just a battle. I mean Greenway’s a big, strong guy there. Battles every shift. I think we’re trying to match that.”
Boughner was glad to see guys stick up for each other, especially after Greenway tussled with the much smaller Mario Ferraro on Friday and there wasn’t much of a response.
“Sometimes those things fire up guys and bring teams together, and I thought that we did a good job of getting five guys in there and sending the message and sticking up for ourselves,” Boughner said. “I wasn’t overly happy about how we responded last game when it happened to Mario.
“So that brings the team closer together and good things happen when you do stick together. I thought it was a good message and I loved the way we responded after that.”