A veteran of just nine NHL games, Toskala turned aside 10 shots in the first period, eight in the second and seven in the third en route to his first career shutout. Vying to become Evgeni Nabokov’s backup next season, Toskala denied Sergei Fedorov’s breakaway chance midway through the third before stopping the Russian superstar from the doorstep with less than two minutes to go.
“I have to say I was a little bit more nervous than games against Boston or Calgary because those names, big names like Hall of Famers on the fourth line, too,” Toskala said. “After that third goal when we scored, I started to think about it.”
“Vesa was up to the task,” San Jose coach Ron Wilson said. “He didn’t have to make a lot of great saves. On the other hand, he didn’t make any mistakes that could have blown up in our face. He handled the puck well, he covered rebounds. He was pretty solid.”
Marleau gave Toskala all the support he needed 9:51 into the game, netting his 27th goal of the season and third in as many contests.
The loss was just the second in nine games for the Red Wings, who were blanked by Minnesota on Sunday before returning the favor two nights later. Detroit fell one point behind Dallas for first overall in the Western Conference.
“Anytime you lose, it’s disappointing,” Red Wings coach Dave Lewis said. “You’re trying to get points and we didn’t get any, and Dallas got one.”
“When we’re trying to pursue that goal to be the top seed in the Western Conference, we can’t afford to play like that, so that’s a bad sign,” Detroit center Igor Larionov said. “You’re not going to get a bad game back in one night, and we did that against Minnesota. These games are a must two points, and we didn’t accomplish that.”
Losers of two in a row and eight of 10, the Sharks got on the board when Marleau took a pass from defenseman Kyle McLaren just inside the blue line, skated in alone on Curtis Joseph and switched to his backhand before putting a shot off the goaltender’s glove.
Spotting Smith coming down the slot, Graves dished to the defensive center, who banged it past Joseph with 3:58 remaining in the second to double San Jose’s lead.
“We played a smart game,” Graves said. “We forced them to the outside and didn’t allow them to regroup and come at us. That allowed us to turn the puck over a little bit and we created some offensive chances and fortunately enough, we’re able to score some key goals and win the hockey game.”
In addition to stopping Fedorov’s point-blank shots, Toskala made consecutive saves in the first period on Brett Hull, who earlier in the day agreed to a one-year contract extension.
“We put them in a situation where their goalie makes a couple of big saves and then we’re in a mode of desperation,” Detroit winger Brendan Shanahan said. “They had a young lineup in there that was excited about the game and I don’t think early on we matched their battle. … We got what we deserved.”
“He played an excellent game,” Larionov added. “He was awesome.”