SAN JOSE -- Before facing the Dallas Stars on Saturday night in his fifth start of the season, San Jose Sharks backup goaltender Alex Stalock hadn't played in a game or seen a shot from an opponent in 15 days.
Stalock made up for lost time after the puck dropped at SAP Center. He stopped a career-high 44 of 46 shots in regulation and overtime then denied all five shots he saw in the shootout, lifting the Sharks to a 3-2 victory.
"Everyone pulls for him," defenseman Jason Demers said of Stalock. "Everyone loves him in this room, especially where he's come from, that injury. He works hard. He works harder than any goalie you'll see in the league. He deserves something like that. We all have full confidence in both of our goalies. For him to come in like that and play a game like that was great to see. I think guys really fed off of it."
Stalock suffered a career-threatening injury on Feb. 3, 2011, while playing for Worcester of the American Hockey League. Stalock had a tendon and nerve behind his left knee severed by an opponent's skate, but he has battled back and earned an NHL job as Antti Niemi's backup.
Stalock improved his record this season to 4-1-0 as San Jose tied its season high for shots allowed.
"I think any goalie will tell you that with more shots it's a little easier to get more comfortable in the nets," said Stalock, who got stronger as the game moved along. "You don' t have to really think about what's coming next. This way it's back and forth. Their guy is getting tested and then they're coming down to our end. It's a little easier to get into it."
Joe Thornton scored the only goal of the tiebreaker to start the fifth round; it was his second game-deciding goal in as many tries this season. After Thornton beat Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen with a shot just inside the left post, Stalock stopped Ray Whitney to end the game.
Thornton scored the game-winner in the eighth round of a shootout against the Los Angeles Kings on Nov. 27, and Sharks coach Todd McLellan called his number again against Dallas.
"You don't really want to know what my reaction was when he called me," said Thornton, who's far better known for his passing skills and rarely takes part in shootouts.
"I've seen him win two games for us," McLellan said. "We may call it more often. That's what you expect from your captain, to step up in those situations and deliver, and he did."
Demers and Joe Pavelski scored in regulation for the Sharks, who overcame a 2-0 second-period deficit. Whitney and Antoine Roussel scored for the Stars, and Lehtonen made 37 saves.
The Sharks beat Dallas for the fifth straight time at SAP Center and evened the season series at one win apiece. San Jose won for just the third time in its past nine games.
"It's always frustrating to lose and tonight it felt deeper for whatever reason," Roussel said. "They push back and find a way to win. That's why they keep going to the playoffs every year. It's still a learning curve for us. We played a great game but we couldn't get the big bounce."
The Stars built a 2-0 lead on goals by Whitney in the first period and Roussel early in the second, but Demers cut Dallas' lead to 2-1 midway through the middle period with his first goal of the season, and the Sharks pulled even on Pavelski's goal at 4:24 of the third.
Thornton won a battle for the puck along the boards and sent the puck ahead to Pavelski. Skating right to left, he backhanded a shot from the crease over Lehtonen's right shoulder for his 14th goal of the season.
"We haven't won many [third periods] in the last stretch," Pavelski said. "We kind of talked about being ready at the start of the third. The other night we were kind of in the same situation and they come out and score right away the first shift," he said of a 4-1 loss to the Kings in Los Angeles on Thursday. "Be ready at the start, get that first shot at the net, and we broke them down from there."
The Stars took a 1-0 lead 4:48 into the game when Whitney, a former Shark, scored his fourth goal of the season. Whitney sent a backhander through defenseman Brad Stuart's legs and over Stalock's glove for his 35th point in 37 career games against the Sharks.
Dallas outshot the Sharks 14-10 in the first period. Both teams went 0-for-2 on the power play.
Coming into the game, San Jose had outscored its opponents 44-15 in the first period and outshot them 431-282.
Roussel scored on a tip-in from close range at 4:47 of the second period during a delayed penalty to give the Stars a 2-0 lead. Alex Goligoski fired a shot into a mass of bodies in front of the net -- including Roussel, who had knifed between Sharks defensemen Dan Boyle and Matt Irwin. The puck deflected past Stalock for Roussel's eighth goal of the season.
"I think we could have put the game away in the second period," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "We had five or six Grade A opportunities but we couldn't get a foot on the head of the snake. Some of those opportunities they made great saves and some of them we just missed the net. We skated well but we didn't win the game."
The Stars appeared to have taken a 3-0 lead at 8:19 when Colton Sceviour, flat on the ice, reached out and scored on a rebound after the puck squirted away from Stalock, who briefly had it covered. But the goal was waived off because referee Mike Leggo had blown the play dead.
Demers cut Dallas' lead to 2-1 at 11:47, scoring on a rush. Tyler Kennedy dropped a pass back from along the right boards to Demers, who beat Lehtonen with a one-timer.
"It was my first? I didn't even know," Demers joked. " We defended the rush really well and I just jumped up fourth man up ice and TK made an unbelievable play. He really sold the shot and I just tried to shoot as hard as I could and it went in. It's good to get that one off my back and hopefully a few of them come a little bit more now."
Stars defenseman Sergei Gonchar was hit with the puck on the right side of face with 7:55 left in the second period. He left the ice and did not return to the game, leaving the Stars with five defensemen for the remainder.
"He's all right," Ruff said. "He took the puck to the face and he'll stay out a little while. I thought those five [defensemen] played a heck of a game."
Sharks rookie forward Tomas Hertl was out of the lineup for the first time this season and is expected to miss at least a month with an injured right knee. He was hurt Thursday night in the first period against Los Angeles during a knee-on-knee collision with Kings captain Dustin Brown.
Hertl had been skating on a line with Thornton and right wing Brent Burns. With Hertl out, McLellan shuffled his lines.
"We'll probably go through this for a little bit until we found something we feel comfortable with game in and game out," McLellan said. "Wasn't a Picasso by any means, but at this time of the year and maybe from now on through, to find a near-perfect game might exist."
Stars veteran forward Vernon Fiddler was activated from injured reserve and returned to the lineup after missing six games with an upper body injury.