Sharks' early run just part of bigger goal

There are 1,230 games in the regular season, but they don't always measure up.

But on Thursday night, two Stanley Cup contenders met at the Shark Tank in a game that could have gone either way and certainly provided full value to the paying public and television audience -- a 4-3 comeback shootout win by the San Jose Sharks over the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins.

Even the players knew it wasn't a run-of-the-mill night.

"As the game goes on, I think you realize it's good hockey," Ryane Clowe told ESPN.com over the phone Thursday night. "It's physical, it's fast, nearly 40 shots for each team, and it was a real even game. A pretty good hockey game, I'd say."

There just aren't enough of these high-end matchups during the season.

The Sharks rallied from 2-0 and 3-1 deficits to beat the Penguins in a shootout win, and Clowe provided the winner, scoring the only goal of the shootout. Heck, for two teams that almost never play each other, there were even two scraps in the contest.

"Yeah, for sure, they're one of the top teams in the East right now, and we knew they'd be ready for us," said Clowe, who tried to spark his club with an early second-period fight. "It was a real physical game with a lot of good, clean hits."

The Sharks edged the Pens in shots 37-36 after trailing Pittsburgh 15-4 in the first period. Remember, this is a Penguins team that has posted a strong 8-3-3 record despite missing key players, including captain Sidney Crosby.

Know this: If it's a Penguins-Sharks matchup in the 2012 Stanley Cup finals, we're all winners for it.

"It would be a pretty hard-fought series," Clowe said. "I like their team. They're missing the best player in the world and they're still first the East. They're built for the playoffs. If I had to pick a team right now to come out of the East, it would be Pittsburgh."

But Thursday night's game belonged to a club selected by a number of national observers to finally get over the hump and win the Stanley Cup. The Sharks started the season 1-3-0 and worried their rabid fans, but San Jose rebounded by going 5-1-0 on its recent six-game road trip and has now won six of seven with Thursday's entertaining victory.

Last season, the Sharks floundered in the opening half and spent most of the second half digging out of the hole. They've made a point of avoiding that this season.

"We stressed needing a good start to the season all throughout training camp," Clowe said. "Our road trip came at a good time. We won five in a row. It's important; you need to make some ground early this season. Hopefully that continues."