Joel Ward said before the Sharks road trip that it was “probably not” possible for the club to win all six games, like it did last November in impressive and somewhat historic fashion.
Perhaps Ward is rethinking that notion now. San Jose has put together impressive back-to-back wins in Washington and Florida, a pair of Eastern Conference clubs that are expected to contend this season. On Thursday night, they erased an early 2-0 hole to beat the Panthers in South Florida, 4-2.
The first period wasn’t a good one for San Jose, as former defenseman Jason Demers struck twice. The first came after a Martin Jones turnover behind the net, and seconds later Tommy Wingels redirected Demers’ shot through his goaltender. On the second, it was Ward’s turnover at the opposing blue line that resulted in a rush the other way, and Demers eventually deposited a Jaromir Jagr rebound after the future Hall of Famer was given too much room to operate in the offensive zone.
Jones made a key save on Keith Yandle late in the period, though, leading to a Brent Burns goal that will go immediately on the Wookiee’s highlight reel. The sequence completely changed the tide of the game.
“That was a heck of an individual effort by Brent on that one, and it gave us momentum going into the second,” Tommy Wingels told CSN after the game.
Speaking to reporters, Pete DeBoer said: “Our first period was not good. Jones made some big saves and Burns got a big goal to keep us in it, and gave us a chance to get through it. We came in and regrouped, and I liked our game from there forward.”
Ward and Wingels both played a role in the comeback, too, after the earlier misplays.
On Joe Pavelski’s game-tying goal early in the second, it was Ward who hustled across the ice to grab a loose puck on the wall and feed the captain. Ward has points in consecutive games, and is looking like he could be a long-term fit on the top line.
Wingels is also resurrecting his Sharks career after he was anything but a lock to make the opening night roster. The fourth line, with Chris Tierney and Melker Karlsson, was arguably the team’s best from start to finish. It was rewarded with Wingels’ decisive score with about 11 minutes to go in regulation.
“I think we compliment each other well,” Wingels said. “We’re tenacious on the puck, we want to play quick, take the shot when its there and get greasy goals. … We were happy that Pete scored some confidence in us throughout the game.”
One player on the other side wasn’t the least bit surprised in the Sharks picking up their game after the first period. After joining the team for the second half of last season, James Reimer was playing against San Jose for the first time since signing a five-year contract with Florida in the summer.
“They’re a good team, and we were probably talking in the first [intermission] about how they didn’t have their best,” Reimer told reporters. “You expect that they’re going to up their game. I thought, for the most part, we matched it. It was a good hockey game for 60 minutes. Unfortunately, we fell short this time.”
Demers, another fan favorite in San Jose during his five-plus seasons with the Sharks, scored his first two goals in a Panthers sweater. But he wasn’t in a mood to celebrate after the game.
“I don’t care if I get four goals. If we don’t win, it doesn’t mean anything,” Demers said. “It’s a tough one to swallow.”
Of the Sharks’ four remaining games on their trip, two in particular stand out as challenging. First, it’s the Lightning on Saturday, a club that is among the fastest in the league. The Sharks have had a rough time with those types of teams so far, losing decisively to the Penguins, Rangers and Red Wings.
After visiting Carolina, they’ll have a Western Conference Final rematch with St. Louis, which should be plenty motivated, and close it out against a weak Arizona team.
They are in a position to make it another memorable road trip.
“We just have to stay with what we’ve got, and believe in ourselves and the process,” Ward told reporters.