SAN JOSE, Calif. – It was a good point to get, but the Wild might be thinking about the other point that got away Saturday night.
Minnesota lost 3-2 in overtime on Joe Thornton's shot from the top of the left circle with 1:30 left in the extra session. It was the second goal of the night and only the eighth of the season for Thornton, the NHL's assists leader.
Earning the point for an overtime loss can't be all bad as the Wild starts this four-game trip. After all, the Western Conference's second-worst road team got that point against the conference's second-best home group. But after controlling the action early and taking a 2-0 lead through the game's first 25 minutes, the Wild allowed San Jose to score twice in 49 seconds during the second period, and that was enough to send the game to overtime.
"We lost the extra point because of the faceoff circle tonight,'' said Wild coach Mike Yeo, whose team went 18-41 inside the dot. "We spent the whole night chasing. … "You get a point in this building, it's probably a good thing.""
The Wild showed early that it was serious about following Yeo's message to dictate the action. Minnesota started the game with the third line of Kyle Brodziak, Matt Cooke and Justin Fontaine, and the trio set an aggressive tone. Midway through the first period, Cooke deflected Thornton's cross-ice pass at center ice, caught up to it as it caromed off the other board and beat Antti Niemi with a wrist shot for his eighth goal 9:33 into the period. The goal was Cooke's eighth of the season.
At that point, the Wild led 1-0 despite trailing 8-3 in shots. But the defense was in the middle of an eight-minute stretch keeping the Sharks stuck on that total. When the puck did reach Darcy Kuemper, it was from long distance and with no traffic in front of him.
When Kuemper did have a letdown, his defense got even better. Near the end of the first period, San Jose's Tyler Kennedy skated down the right side, drew Kuemper out of the net and sped toward a wraparound — only to be denied by Ryan Suter on the other post.
Early in the second period, Wild winger Jason Pominville surprised Niemi behind the net and stole the goaltender's clearing attempt off the boards. The Wild kept the puck behind the net and worked it to Ballard, whose wrist shot from the right side found the top left corner of the net at the 4:16 mark. As the Wild searches for scoring, that's going deep into the bag of tricks — the goal was Ballard's first since the 2011-12 season opener for Vancouver.
But the line of Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns — the hottest group in the league since Pavelski joined in December — can only be denied for so long. Pavelski scooped up a feed behind the Wild net and found Thornton in the slot. Thornton, the NHL's assists leader, fired it past Kuemper to cut the Wild's lead to 2-1 at 11:12.
Less than a minute later, the Wild let Sharks winger Tommy Wingels walk down the left side, and after Brodziak's poke check failed, Wingels fed Patrick Marleau rushing toward the left post for a one-timer that tied the score at 12:01 of the second.
"We had a lot of opportunities,'' Ballard said. "We controlled play for most of the game. We knew they were going to have opportunities."
Zach Parise continued to make his presence felt on the ice if not the stat sheet. He started the second period with a nice shot that led to a rebound chance. He later put the hit of the night on the Sharks' Jason Demers, which led Demers to start a wrestling match (no penalty was called) in front of the goal. It was one of many instances of Parise pestering the Sharks into a mistake.