TORONTO - The San Jose Sharks turned a too-long shift by the Toronto Maple Leafs' fourth line into the go-ahead goal in their sixth consecutive victory.
Brad Stuart scored the tiebreaking goal 16 minutes into the second period and the Sharks beat the Maple Leafs 4-2 on Tuesday night at Air Canada Centre. Stuart's shot from half-boards went off of a Maple Leafs defenseman in front of the net and past goalie James Reimer to put the Sharks ahead to stay. Forward Joe Pavelski pressured in front of the net forcing the defensemen in on Reimer.
Stuart's third goal of the season came against the Maple Leafs' weary fourth line, which was trapped in its own zone and was gassed after being on the ice for a shift that lasted 1:48.
"They're tired and they're fourth line so, no disrespect, but you can maybe try things that you ordinarily wouldn't do," Stuart said. "I think we had a lot of good looks on that shift. We were able to get a good bounce and capitalize on it."
Logan Couture hit the empty net with 1:24 remaining, assuring the Maple Leafs of their fifth consecutive loss.
"We try to accentuate the positives, but the big negative is we lost," coach Randy Carlyle said. "And what we have to do is we have to continue to prod and push our players and support our players in the things they're doing well and continue to try to improve on the things we're doing poorly. Did we give ourselves a chance tonight? We gave ourselves a chance for about half of the game."
Both teams' fourth lines played a key role in the outcome.
The Sharks struck first at 10:00 of the first period when defenseman Jason Demers took a shot from the blue line that was tipped in by fourth-liner Mike Brown, a former Maple Leaf, for his second goal of the season.
"I thought they were the difference in the game," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said of his fourth line. "Maybe their minutes don't reflect it, but their energy and their passion that they played with rubbed off on others. When it wasn't going good we kept turning to them to get some energy going and they did a really good job."
Joe Thornton scored his fifth of the season at 14:31 during a 5-on-3 power play to make it 2-0 after the Maple Leafs got into a hole because of penalties to Jay McClement and Mason Raymond.
"[Pavelski] just made a nice play," Thornton said. "He kind of put it through the defenseman's stick and, really, I just had an open net, so I had to get it up a bit. I can't remember the last time we had a 5-on-3 so it was nice to capitalize on it."
The goal was the Sharks' first in four opportunities this season with a 5-on-3 advantage.
"Go down 5-on-3 and that took the momentum totally for the period in their favor," Carlyle said. "When you give a hockey team like that momentum, they can skate, they're big, there was no real surprise on what they were going to do. They did it. And it took us till the second period before we got our things going."
But after being outplayed badly in the first period, Toronto capitalized on a pair of power plays to pull even before the midway mark of the second.
Raymond made it 2-1 at 2:34 when he stole the puck from Stuart, broke in on a 2-on-1 and beat goalie Antti Niemi (28 saves) through the five-hole for his 10th goal of the season.
"We were moving our feet. I think that's the biggest thing," Raymond said. "We were hard on the forecheck and were not receiving the play. I think it's as simple as that."
Phil Kessel tied the game at 9:47 with his 15th goal of the season and the 200th of his career. He converted a quick pass by Tyler Bozak after an initial shot from the side of the net by James van Riemsdyk.
"I think we've always said we have a lot of resiliency in this room, and it's about trying to stay even-keel," van Riemsdyk said. "You never get too high, you never get too low. You just try to keep that consistency with your game."
The Maple Leafs lost Bozak not long afterward when he suffered an upper-body injury. Carlyle said he didn't know the severity of the injury.
Toronto center Dave Bolland (cut ankle tendon) and forward Joffrey Lupul (groin) are on injured reserve, and defenseman Cody Franson has missed the past two games with an undisclosed injury.
"I think it's annoying for everyone," said Reimer, who finished with 37 saves. "But at the same time, guys get opportunities. You've got to step in there and play well as a team. Last year we had lots of injuries, too, to key guys for long periods of time and we found ways to win. This season we've got to do the same thing and fight for each other."
The Sharks continue their four-game road trip on Thursday against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Maple Leafs host the Dallas Stars on Thursday.
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