SAN JOSE – In a fast paced game between two legitimate Stanley Cup contenders, Tomas Hertl’s late third period goal was the difference in a 3-1 Sharks win at SAP Center on Tuesday night.
On the winning goal, a wrist shot by Brent Burns off of the back boards was swiped in by Hertl on his backhand with 2:03 to go in regulation. It was Hertl’s fifth goal, and first since he returned last Thursday from a right knee injury that had kept him out since mid-November.
Patrick Marleau scored his career 499th goal and Joe Pavelski added an empty netter in the win. San Jose has captured seven of its last eight (7-1-0), and reclaimed sole possession of first place in the Pacific Division ahead of Edmonton, which lost to Minnesota.
There was a good pace to the first period, as both teams were playing for the first time since the All-Star break. It took until the second period for any goals to be scored, though.
Marleau’s marker put San Jose ahead. Burns’ point shot on the power play was tipped by Pavelski in the slot, and Marleau found the loose puck at the side of the net at 14:06.
Just a few minutes earlier, a Marleau goal was nullified after a video review showed Mikkel Boedker to be offsides on the entry.
The Blackhawks responded. Dennis Rasmussen used Paul Martin as a screen and buzzed in a wrist shot that caught the outside of the post before hitting the net 16:53.
With their 18th home win (18-7-1), the Sharks equaled their win total at SAP Center last season, when they were just 18-20-3.
Chicago lost its third straight.
The Sharks began a stretch of 10 games in 20 days that will take them to their bye week from Feb. 20-24. Chicago kicked off a six-game road swing.
This was the third and final game between the teams. San Jose won at home on Nov. 23, 2-1, while Chicago responded with a 4-1 triumph at United Center in December.
The Sharks went 1-for-3 on the power play against what entered as the 28th-ranked penalty kill. For Marleau, four of his 18 scores have come with a man advantage. In three games against Chicago, San Jose was 2-for-9 on the power play.
Chicago was 0-for-3, and finished 0-for-7 in the season series. The Sharks may have caught a break in the third period when Burns slashed Patrick Kane on a breakaway less than three minutes in, but instead of awarding Kane a penalty shot, the referee issued Burns a minor for tripping.
The Sharks have allowed just three power play goals-against in their last six games (10-for-13).
After his first career All-Star Game on Sunday, Martin Jones got the start in net for the fourth game in the last five overall. He improved to 3-3-1 in his career against the Blackhawks with 23 saves.
Corey Crawford, also an All-Star, got the call for Chicago and allowed two goals on 28 shots.
Micheal Haley was activated from injured reserve before the game, but did not play.
Chicago’s Marcus Kruger was a late scratch due to illness.
The Sharks will face Vancouver on Thursday at Rogers Arena for what is oddly the first of five meetings between the two teams. For the Canucks, it will be their first game after the All-Star break.