SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP)—Early in the third period, coach Todd McLellan could tell his San Jose Sharks’ recent travels had left their tanks dry.
After racking up more than 5,000 air miles and losing two tough games in the last week, the overall NHL leaders were clinging to a one-goal lead on the surging New York Rangers, who always seemed to be an instant shy of tying it.
Yet Evgeni Nabokov wouldn’t allow his sagging teammates to fold, making 17 of his 32 saves in the frantic third period of the Sharks’ 3-2 victory Saturday night.
“We were a pretty determined team, and I say that including the last 15 or 18 minutes there when we had nothing left,” McLellan said. “We found a way, and that’s the sign of a good team, so I’ll take that.”
Dan Boyle, Ryane Clowe and captain Patrick Marleau scored early goals for the Sharks, who were back home after a 1-1-1 road trip that ended with the overall NHL leaders’ worst loss of the season, a 6-0 thrashing in Detroit on Thursday.
The Atlantic Division-leading Rangers dominated the third period, getting agonizingly close to the tying goal in a half-dozen flurries while outshooting the NHL shots leaders 17-7. But Nabokov, who gave up all six goals to the Red Wings, coolly kept the Sharks unbeaten in regulation at the Tank nearly halfway through their home schedule (17-0-2).
“We were probably not as fresh as we’ve been, but we battled,” said Nabokov, who matched Calgary’s Miikka Kiprusoff and Rangers counterpart Henrik Lundqvist for the league lead with 18 victories. “That’s the way it should be.”
The rest of the Sharks also were appropriately chagrined after barely hanging on to a victory that easily could have slipped away. Clowe cited the club’s brutal travel schedule, but immediately dismissed it.
“Any time you have a disadvantage, you can’t use it as an excuse,” Clowe said. “That’s a good lesson for the playoffs or for later in the season when things don’t go how you want it. We all know it’s not going to be easy to get to where we want to be in a few months.”
Joe Thornton had two assists as the Sharks came back strong from just their second set of consecutive losses of the season, scoring two power-play goals in the first 4:52 and adding Marleau’s goal early in the second.
Lundqvist made 27 saves for the Rangers, who had two days of rest after winning in the first two stops of their California road trip. New York hadn’t lost in its last six meetings with the Sharks, and the Rangers outplayed San Jose for most of this trip to the Tank, but got nothing to show for it.
“These guys are tough to play against when they have the lead,” Rangers defenseman Wade Redden said. “It was too bad that we gave up those early ones. I think we did a good job when they started to sit back, but we couldn’t score.”
Playing without injured forward Milan Michalek for the second straight game, the Sharks got rolling when Boyle capitalized on the waning seconds of a 5-on-3 advantage, wiring a shot to the far corner of Lundqvist’s net. Clowe scored another power-play goal 25 seconds later with some nifty stick work in front of the net.
But Clowe then gave up a goal when he failed to hold on to the puck near the boards, allowing Zherdev to escape on a 2-on-1 for his 12th of the season.
Marleau padded the Sharks’ lead with an alert score from the slot on a pass from Thornton in the second period after linemate Devin Setoguchi forced a turnover. Callahan kept New York close by chipping home his ninth goal a few minutes later.
The Rangers controlled play starting early in the third period, repeatedly cycling the puck in San Jose’s end for incredibly lengthy stretches.
“There were a couple of times there where we had them sort of spent, and we weren’t able to get it on net,” Rangers coach Tom Renney said. “Their goaltender played great. We waited a little too long to turn up the heat a little bit on them. Had we done that a little bit earlier, we would have had a different outcome.”
Before the game, San Jose reassigned LW Lukas Kaspar to its top affiliate in Worcester (AHL). … Sharks C Tomas Plihal went to the locker room with a lower-body injury early in the second period, but returned to action shortly afterward. … Rangers LW Markus Naslund is scoreless in three straight games, one shy of matching his longest stretch this season.