SAN JOSE, Calif. - The Wild’s getaway to California packed in three games against three perennially competitive opponents, but the actual itinerary wasn’t as intimidating.
One day off.
So by the time the Wild reached the finale Sunday in San Jose, it had the early jump over a team completing two games in two nights.
But the head start wasn’t enough to sustain the Wild, as it blew a three-goal lead before finally shrugging off the Sharks in overtime for a 4-3 victory in front of 17,205 SAP Center that sealed four out of a possible six points on the road trip while improving the team to 4-1 in its past five games.
“The character showed through that they dug deep here,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I think we did a good job of keeping our cool in certain situations.”
Winger Nino Niederreiter nixed the Sharks’ rally 3 minutes, 26 seconds into the extra period — this after the Sharks tied it at 14:59 after goalie Alex Stalock couldn’t hold on to a save, enabling winger Tomas Hertl to shuffle in the loose puck.
“He was probably kicking himself for the third goal a little bit,” Boudreau said of Stalock, who finished with 31 saves. “But he was great.”
Signs of a collapse popped up amid a string of seven penalties by the Wild — a lopsided advantage the Sharks used to generate momentum and help them climb out of a three-goal hole.
Just 4:19 after puck drop, the Wild converted on its own power play amid a slick passing sequence. Center Eric Staal found winger Jason Zucker below the goal line, and Zucker fed defenseman Ryan Murphy — who was left alone at the back post to wire a shot by Sharks goalie Martin Jones for his first goal as a member of the Wild. It was the Wild’s lone power-play goal in three opportunities.
Later in the first, the Wild grew its lead after defenseman Ryan Suter set up Staal for an easy tap-in at 10:27.
A pair of penalties slowed the Wild’s attack the rest of the period, and the team also struggled to find a rhythm early in the second. But Staal recalibrated the group with his second of the game — this one a wraparound that he managed to jam between Jones’ right skate and the post. Jones ended up with 20 saves.
“I was fortunate for it to squeeze across,” Staal said.
The Sharks challenged the goal to see whether goaltender interference was a factor, as Niederreiter was in front of Jones at the top of the crease, but the goal counted. It was Staal’s second two-goal effort of the season and seventh multipoint game.
The parade to the penalty box continued after that, with the Wild committing four penalties in the period — two of which were called on the same play to give the Sharks a five-on-three advantage.
And that’s when they capitalized, with defenseman Brent Burns’ slapshot eluding Stalock at 19:07 — this not long after defenseman Jonas Brodin blocked an attempt from Burns and Stalock made a key stop on Hertl.
“We’d get out of the box and right back in,” Suter said.
Another penalty early in the third, the second committed by defenseman Gustav Olofsson, was costly, as Burns capitalized again with a sizzling slapper at 2:41.
“The velocity on it is unbelievable,” Stalock said of Burns’ shot. “Any time a guy like that can bring it, you have a split second to react and if you don’t do it, it’s in.”
That was just the boost San Jose needed to amplify its pressure on the Wild, a heavy push that culminated in Hertl’s tying goal before Niederreiter’s game-winner.
“All that matters is how you finish,” Suter said, “and we were able to get that extra one.”