SAN JOSE -- Players and coaches call it puck luck, and it worked against the Sharks on Saturday night.

The only two shots that got past San Jose goalie Antti Niemi bounced off his own teammates as the Sharks dropped a 3-2 shootout decision to the Washington Capitals that forced San Jose to postpone its playoff clinching for at least another 48 hours.

"Sometimes it doesn't go your way," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "Not much we can do about it. You play 82 games, you're going to have some of those bounces."

Washington won the game on a pair of shootout goals by forwards Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom. Patrick Marleau was the only Shark to score in the skills competition as Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski each missed against Capitals goalie Braden Holtby, a surprise starter.

But the two goals that forced the game into overtime and then a shootout each caught Niemi by surprise, the first when a clearing attempt by Justin Braun hit Matt Nieto's skate and caromed in the opposite direction, the second when a shot by Chris Brown ricocheted off both Nieto and Dan Boyle.

Capitals forward Eric Fehr was credited with the first goal, while Patrick Marleau and James Sheppard scored for San Jose. The shootout loss ended a string of seven straight San Jose victories in the one-on-one competition and also reversed a trend for Washington, which had lost its last five.

The Sharks realized that bad bounces weren't the only reason they came away with only one point.


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"Two strange goals, but we really didn't have too much sustained time in their zone," Sharks captain Joe Thornton said. "Their 'D' were quick to close on us, and they were hard on pucks. They're a desperate team."

With the two points, Washington stayed in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race.

McLellan was concerned before the game that his team might suffer an emotional letdown, having invested so heavily in that 3-2 victory over the Anaheim Ducks that moved the Sharks into first place in the Pacific Division. But afterward, he seemed satisfied with his team's effort.

The Sharks fell behind midway through the first period when a shot by Fehr wound up just outside the crease, and Braun's defensive move went awry at 11:25.

A turnover behind his own net by Washington defenseman Mike Green helped the Sharks tie the game with just 5.6 seconds remaining in the first period. Nieto came away with the puck, and while Holtby made the initial save, the puck ended up on Marleau's stick, and he found an opening for his 30th goal of the season.

Neither team scored in a second period with the Sharks coming closest when Marty Havlat snapped off a 47-foot shot that hit the right goal post.

San Jose took its first lead of the night at 5:07 of the third period on a strong solo effort by Sheppard, who blocked a shot, then broke down the ice all alone for a backhand shot that beat Holtby through the five hole.

But the Capitals came back to tie the game at 12:30 when rookie Brown scored his first NHL goal on a shot from the slot that sneaked past Niemi after bouncing off the two Sharks.

The Sharks had a chance to win the game in regulation when Capitals superstar Alexander Ovechkin took a minor penalty for high-sticking Marc-Edouard Vlasic. But Holtby managed to stop the four shots that reached him.

  • The loss was San Jose's first at home to the Capitals since Oct. 30, 1993 -- a two-decade span that saw the Sharks go 11-0-0 with one tie.

  • Holtby was an unexpected starter for Washington after Jaroslav Halak developed a lower body injury. It was his first start since March 6.

  • Sharks forward Raffi Torres missed his seventh game with general soreness, much of it in his surgically repaired right knee. Tyler Kennedy and Matt Tennyson were also scratches for San Jose.

    MONDAY'S GAME

    Sharks (46-18-8) at Calgary (29-35-7), 6 p.m. CSNCA

    INSIDE

    Purdy: Brent Burns' chaotic play gives Sharks a boost. PAGE 2