SAN JOSE, Calif. - Joe Thornton circled the net in overtime and slid a pass in front. Patrick Marleau and Devin Setoguchi blindly hacked at the puck until Anaheim goalie Jonas Hiller back-heeled it into his own net.
Sure, it was likely the ugliest of Marleau's 10 career game-winning playoff goals. The captain chose to focus on the rough beauty of San Jose's 3-2 victory Saturday night, when Marleau and his old linemates got back together to save the Sharks' season.
With the top-seeded Sharks facing playoff elimination, coach Todd McLellan decided to reunite his top line before it was literally too late. Marleau got his second game-winning goal of the series 6:02 into overtime, while Thornton had two assists to go with his first goal in 11 playoff games - and even Setoguchi got a goal.
Reuniting feels so good, but San Jose still is on the brink of elimination in Game 6 in Anaheim on Monday night.
"It felt great to be in that group again, definitely," Marleau said. "We played with desperation, and we have to have it. We lose one more, and we're gone."
Evgeni Nabokov made 23 saves for the Sharks, who blew a two-goal lead when Ryan Carter and Corey Perry scored in the first 4:42 of the third period to even it for Anaheim. San Jose's top line took care of it in overtime with a goal that was equal parts skill and guile.
"I was able to just go to the front of the net, and (Thornton) obviously made a great pass," Marleau said. "We just kept jamming at it, and finally got it past the goalie. We'll try anything we can. He's playing well, and those are the kind of goals we might have to start getting."
While Ducks centre Ryan Getzlaf and coach Randy Carlyle vociferously complained Hiller's pad had been nudged, video review confirmed the officials' call while the Sharks already were in their dressing room.
"The reason the puck went in the net was their player pushed our goalie's pad," Carlyle said. "The puck was loose, their player pushed, and as he pushed, the goalie's pad - the back of his foot, which is attached to the pad, the back of his skate, knocked the puck in the net. ... I think there needs to be some clarification, because in my view, they are not allowed to push the goaltender and the puck into the net."
Hiller stopped 45 shots in another busy night of work, but the Ducks failed to capitalize on numerous late scoring opportunities, forcing them to attempt another clincher at home.
"I really didn't see it," Hiller said. "I don't know what happened. I couldn't find it, so I just tried to lay down on it, but their guy was faster. ... We had our chances in overtime, and we didn't use them. San Jose is still the best team in the league, and we have to play our best to have a chance."
If the Sharks win again in Anaheim, the series will be decided in San Jose on Wednesday night.
For at least two more days, San Jose avoided becoming the eighth No. 1 seed since 1994 to lose in the first round. San Jose still could be the third Presidents' Trophy winner to flop in the first round since 2004, but it didn't happen at the Tank, where the Sharks were the NHL's best home team in the regular season.
"Everything is fine and dandy right now, but we've still got a noose around our neck," McLellan said. "We've got to be prepared to play even better back in their building."
After losing the series' first two games at the Shark Tank last week, San Jose returned from splitting a pair in Anaheim with more excitement than desperation. The Sharks forechecked, blocked shots and created offence with an intensity they've only rarely showed against the Ducks - and Nabokov, second in the NHL with 41 regular-season victories, finally was sharp after struggling earlier in the series.
After Thornton banged home Marleau's rebound on a power play in the first period, Setoguchi circled the net and slipped the puck through the sliver of space between Hiller's outstretched pad and the ice late in the second.
But Carter, who didn't join the Ducks' lineup until Game 4, halved the Sharks' lead 55 seconds into the third. Perry then evened it on a pass from Scott Niedermayer, sending the Shark Tank into fearful silence.
Notes: Ducks RW Bobby Ryan, who had four goals in the first four games, left the ice with 12:59 left in regulation. Anaheim didn't immediately announce whether the rookie star was injured, but he returned to the bench with 2:21 left. ... San Jose has outshot Anaheim in all five games of the series.
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