SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA (TICKER) —Most teams that reach the postseason can finish off opponents. The Montreal Canadiens’ inability to close out games likely will keep them from the playoffs.
Sturm’s game-winner marked the 15th time Montreal has lost this season after having the lead or being tied in the third period. In this one, the Canadiens took a 2-1 lead after two periods before San Jose got goals from Adam Graves and Sturm.
“Well, it’s really frustrating,” Canadiens coach Claude Julien said. “I think those are must-wins, and we’re certainly not finding ways to win. We’re finding ways to lose and I think it’s really disappointing that tonight when we thought we could have won this game weren’t able to finish it off.”
Of the 15 defeats when leading or tied in the third period, eight have been since Julien replaced the fired Michel Therrien.
“When you haven’t won in a long time, instead of going back into the third period where we should have been playing to win, we sort of play to save sometimes, sit back and give the other team the opportunity to get back into the game,” Julien said. “I thought that was the difference tonight. All we had to do was go out and win that period. All it takes is a win, guys. It’s all about confidence right now.”
“That’s our season,” defenseman Patrice Brisebois added. “All season, we’d get the lead after two periods and we’d lose the game, and that’s happened so often this year. I don’t know why. That’s not supposed to happen, but it’s happened too often this year.”
Sturm ended San Jose’s two-game losing streak on a wraparound. After former Canadien Vincent Damphousse broke free from defenseman Francis Bouillon in the right corner, he skated behind the net and left the puck for Sturm, who poked it through the pads of goaltender Jose Theodore.
“The feeling wasn’t good, obviously,” Sturm said. “What happened pretty much all season, when we get down a goal we kind of pack it in. But I think the team responded pretty good. You know, (Montreal) played last night, too. We know we have to get on those guys, they’re maybe a little bit tired.”
Montreal had its winless streak reach eight games (0-6-1-1), fell to 0-2-0 on a pivotal seven-game road trip and dropped seven points behind Boston and the New York Islanders for the final Eastern Conference playoff berth.
Bouillon’s goal with 95 seconds left in regulation salvaged a point for the Canadiens. He also made a nice defensive play on Sturm before losing Damphousse in overtime.
Bouillon forced the extra period by converting rookie Marcel Hossa’s pass from the point. He lifted a hard one-timer past Sharks goalie Miikka Kiprusoff for his fourth NHL goal and first since March 29, 2000.
Patrick Marleau had the other goal for San Jose, which won for just the third time in 26 games when trailing through two periods.
For the second time during its winless streak, Montreal struck first. Saku Koivu won a faceoff and got the puck to Jan Bulis, whose shot from the right circle was tipped by Audette over Kiprusoff’s glove with 7:34 remaining in the opening period.
After Audette’s second goal in three games, Marleau netted his 23rd of the season 2:50 into the second. Rookie Niko Dimitrakos spotted Teemu Selanne in the right circle and sent him a long pass under the stick of several Montreal defenders. Selanne fed Marleau, who tipped it past Theodore.
But 4:13 later, Kilger’s bouncing shot hit the stick of Sharks defenseman Scott Hannan and deflected past Kiprusoff.
In the first period, Kilger’s apparent goal was disallowed when the video review official ruled he touched the puck with a stick above the crossbar.
Graves forged a 2-2 tie midway through the second period and Sturm’s 22nd goal gave San Jose its first lead with 2:41 remaining in regulation.
“The few goals Montreal scored were kind of fluky, but I was pleased with the way they played,” said Sharks coach Ron Wilson, whose team outshot Montreal, 18-10, over the final 24 minutes.