SUNRISE, Fla. -- Rookie goaltender Alex Stalock earned his first NHL shutout Thursday night as the Sharks beat the Florida Panthers 3-0. And his biggest save was one in the third period that led to a goal nine seconds later at the opposite end of the ice.
"Sometimes that happens," said Stalock, who recorded the shutout in his seventh start as backup to Antti Niemi. "You get a big save on one end, and right away at the other end you get a chance like that, and we capitalized. It was a big turning point."
The sequence began with the Sharks holding a 1-0 lead on a beautiful breakaway by Joe Thornton in the final minute of the second period -- a goal that also followed a Stalock save.
But it looked as if the Panthers might pull even when center Nick Bjugstad found linemate Scottie Upshall all alone just outside the crease.
"I kind of saw him back door and didn't know whether that guy was going to make the pass or not," Stalock said. "He did. He tried making a shot back against the grain, and I ended up getting there."
Patrick Marleau sent the rebound up the ice to Tyler Kennedy, who drove the net. Florida goalie Tim Thomas made the initial save, but Matt Nieto potted the rebound at 4:44 for his third goal of the season, and first in 29 games.
"It was really relieving," Nieto said before harking back to a missed breakaway three minutes earlier. "I was pretty upset with myself then, but I just kept going. Patty and TK made a great play off the rush. I just followed up and picked up the garbage."
Joe Pavelski's team-leading 22nd goal later in the third gave the Sharks even more breathing room -- a somewhat unexpected development as they got 21 shots on net in the first period without one eluding Thomas.
"It was one of those nights when you don't get in front when maybe you deserve to be, and then you're concerned," coach Todd McLellan said. "But the goaltender was fine, big save at 1-0 and back the other way for two. We'll take it."
Thornton's goal came 14 seconds after Stalock stopped a shot by Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau. Brent Burns got the puck to Thornton, who skated into the offensive zone ahead of Florida defenseman Mike Weaver.
The Sharks captain sliced diagonally across the crease, then floated the puck over Thomas' left shoulder as he followed across the goal mouth.
"I don't know when the last time I had a breakaway was," Thornton said. "Centers tend not to get breakaways. I didn't know how far Weaver was from me, so I just kind of dragged him across. Just a lucky shot."
Thornton is the NHL's top playmaker with a league-leading 45 assists, but this was only his sixth goal and first in 21 games. McLellan, however, saw it as more than a matter of luck.
"You know, Jumbo, I think he's like wine. He gets better with age," the coach said. "Great hands, very soft play."
McLellan already had indicated that Stalock would be getting more starts in the future with Niemi on Team Finland's Olympic roster. And if the shutout means even more frequent taps on the shoulder?
"Obviously your goal is to play," Stalock said, then adding: "I know my role -- they've got a world-class goalie here. Whenever I get the call, I just try to go in and give them a chance."
Sharks (30-12-6) at Tampa Bay (28-15-5),
11 a.m. CSNCA