San Jose Sharks goalie Antti Niemi (31), from Finland, catches the puck against the Detroit Red Wings during the first period of an NHL hockey game in San Jose, Calif., Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
SAN JOSE, Calif. - Jonas Gustavsson delivered just the kind of performance the Detroit Red Wings expected when they signed him as a backup in the off-season.
Gustavsson made 25 saves in his first start of the season and was perfect in the shootout, leading the Red Wings to their third win in four games with a 2-1 victory over the struggling San Jose Sharks on Thursday night.
Slowed by a nagging groin injury early in the season, Gustavsson was unable to be the reliable backup to Jimmy Howard that Detroit needs—until he came up big against the Sharks. Gustavsson helped the Red Wings bounce back after losing 2-1 in Los Angeles the previous night.
"I was real excited to play today," Gustavsson said. "You play because you want to win. That's the best feeling you can have. The guys really helped me a lot today. They made it easier for me."
Damien Brunner scored the lone goal in the shootout to give Gustavsson his first win since March 3, 2012, for Toronto against Montreal. Patrick Eaves tied the game midway through the third period with his first goal in more than two years as the Red Wings showed no signs of fatigue against the more-rested Sharks.
"We had a lot of energy out, especially after playing last night," Eaves said. "I thought right from the start we didn't have any lull at all. We really wanted to have a push in this game after last night and go for the two points."
Logan Couture scored the lone goal for the Sharks, who lost 10 of 12 games in February and have just one regulation win in their past 14 games. Antti Niemi made 33 saves but it wasn't enough for the win as San Jose's scoring slump continues with just 10 goals in the past nine games.
"It's the same story every game," Couture said. "We have to find a way to score more goals. Personally and as a team we have to find a way to put it into the back of the net. You're not going to win many games scoring one goal and we've found that out lately."
San Jose was even blanked in the shootout, missing all three attempts against a backup goalie, including a wrist shot by Ryane Clowe that went wide to end the game.
That made Brunner's forehand goal off Niemi's glove in the second round the game-winner. Brunner has scored the deciding goal in both shootouts he has participated in as a rookie, also scoring the lone goal against Columbus on Jan. 21.
"Good players are going to miss, so why should I put myself under pressure going out there," Brunner said. "I know I can score. It about being loose out there."
This game between the only two teams to make the playoffs every season since the 2004-05 lockout took on added importance as both squads have struggled to find consistency in this lockout-shortened season. Both clubs are in a logjam in the middle of the Western Conference, with the Red Wings tied for fourth and the Sharks one point back in a five-way tie for sixth place.
The teams traded goals early in the third period, with Couture putting the Sharks on top when he scored the first goal less than 5 minutes into the period. The goal came after an odd bounce off the backboards on a dump-in by Douglas Murray. Couture and Joe Thornton did a good job at the blue line to keep the puck in the offensive zone and Thornton then found Couture for a one-timer from the circle to make it 1-0.
Niemi made a strong stop on a rebound from Daniel Cleary to preserve the lead but had no chance when Eaves tipped Niklas Kronwall's point shot past him for the tying goal less than 2 minutes after San Jose scored to end a personal 46-game goal drought.
Gustavsson preserved the tie when he made a tough stop on Thornton from in close with less than 7 minutes to play, and the game remained that way for the rest of regulation.
The Sharks had the better of the chances in the first two periods, with Couture generating a few scoring chances in the first period and Clowe missing wide after struggling to control the puck on a breakaway.
San Jose then failed to even get a shot on a pair of 2-on-1s in the second period as Patrick Marleau and Thornton each attempted passes that failed to connect instead of shooting the puck.
"We haven't exactly been lighting it up," coach Todd McLellan said. "They're smart people. They can watch the game. They know they have to shoot the puck to score. It's disappointing. When we have those opportunities, we have to make good on them. Other teams in the league are. We have to."
NOTES: The Red Wings failed on two power-play chances and are 0 for 33 on the road this season. ... Clowe returned from a two-game suspension but remains without a goal in 17 games.