SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) _ Thanks to one lucky bounce, goaltender Evgeni Nabokov's perfection was rewarded and the St. Louis Blues' tenacity was wasted.
Nabokov made 24 saves in his eighth shutout of the season, and Jonathan Cheechoo scored early in the third period of the San Jose Sharks' 1-0 victory over the hard-luck Blues on Sunday night.
San Jose won for the fifth time in six games, staying six points ahead of Dallas in the Pacific Division with impressive defense _ but the Sharks could have ended up in a scoreless tie, if not for the odd carom that set up the game's only goal.
In the opening minute of the third period, Steve Martins made an ill-advised pass to the middle of the Blues' zone after getting surprised by the puck's bounce off the boards. Patrick Marleau intercepted the pass and found Cheechoo, who scored on a one-timer from the slot.
``Sometimes you've got to be standing in the right place, or all your hard work doesn't matter,'' Cheechoo said. ``We earned the opportunity we got, but it's part luck, too.''
Nabokov earned the 25th shutout of his career with a series of impressive saves. His glove hand was typically impeccable as he extended his own franchise record for shutouts in a season.
Nabokov has won four straight starts, raising his game to unprecedented levels in his resurgent season. The Sharks, who lead the NHL in first-period goal differential, couldn't give Nabokov his usual cushion this time _ but he actually enjoyed a different challenge.
``It was a toe-to-toe game, and one mistake can cost you a game like that,'' Nabokov said. ``The shutout is good, but it's more important for the two points. We're in a pretty good position to climb up (the conference standings), but as soon as you start thinking you're up there, you find yourself down at the other end.''
Chris Osgood stopped 17 shots for the Blues, who went winless on their five-game road trip _ including back-to-back shutout losses with Saturday's 2-0 defeat at Vancouver.
St. Louis is 0-2-1 since Mike Kitchen took over for fired coach Joel Quenneville.
``Obviously it's frustrating,'' said right wing Jamal Mayers, who fought Todd Harvey in the third period. ``We wanted to get Kitch's first win. We played well the last three games, but to only come away with one point is certainly disappointing.''
Both teams were playing their third game in four nights, making for less explosive offense and more tenacious defense. The Blues traditionally dominate in San Jose, but Nabokov backstopped the Sharks to just their second home victory over the Blues in 11 games.
The first two periods were scoreless, though both teams had chances. The Sharks failed to score on two breakaways against Osgood, while at least one St. Louis shot hit the post behind Nabokov during a power play in the second period.
``We're having a hard time just getting a garbage goal,'' Kitchen said. ``We had a good power play there. We had maybe two or three real good chances. We hit the post. Maybe it's a garbage goal that turns it around for us.''
Cheechoo's 19th goal extended his point streak to a career-best seven games. He has five goals and five assists during that span, improving from a solid contributor to a serious scorer in his second full NHL season.
``I'm starting to get a little bit more confidence, and I'm starting to score a little bit more, and more consistently,'' Cheechoo said. ``That was one of my goals coming into the season. It feels good coming into the playoffs knowing that I can contribute that way.''
Linesman Brad Kovachik was knocked out of the game less than three minutes in when Alex Korolyuk accidentally hit him with the puck while trying to dump it into St. Louis' end. Kovachik remained on the ice for two minutes, and was evaluated at a local hospital.