DENVER -- The San Jose Sharks needed a taller ladder because that hole they dug themselves into was just too deep.
San Jose did make a game of it Saturday afternoon after the Colorado Avalanche scored three times in a 66-second span of the second period to take a four-goal lead. But the comeback fell short and the Sharks came out on the short end of a 4-3 decision.
Don't think for a minute that coach Todd McLellan took any comfort from the way his players rallied.
"You know what I'll take away from that? That we used up a lot of energy to come within one and we're in the midst of a tough schedule," McLellan said. "Played guys down the stretch an awful lot, and we're still short."
The Sharks chipped into Colorado's 4-0 lead with goals by Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture. But two goals by rookie Nathan MacKinnon and one each from ex-Shark Jamie McGinn and Erik Johnson were too much to overcome.
The loss was San Jose's seventh in its past nine road games.
It was the second down-to-the-wire contest between the teams in 12 days. On Dec. 23, a Pavelski goal with 20 seconds left led to a 5-4 shootout win for San Jose, and Saturday he had the puck on his stick late in the third period with another chance to tie the game.
The Sharks were on a power play when Pavelski skated in alone on goalie Semyon Varlamov. This time, however, Varlamov stopped that shot at 16:46 and the rebound by Brent Burns that followed.
"I shot five hole, I shouldn't have shot five hole, I never shoot five hole," Pavelski said. "I'd like to have it back if I could."
Colorado jumped ahead 1-0 when MacKinnon deflected a power play shot by defenseman Andre Benoit past starting goalie Antti Niemi, but San Jose's undoing once again came in a second period that has been a problem all season.
Dan Boyle lost the puck right in front of his own net after encountering Marc-Edouard Vlasic and an instant later former teammate Jamie McGinn deposited it over Niemi's shoulder to give Colorado a 2-0 lead at 4:53.
A soft shot by Johnson from the blue line bounced its way past Niemi at 5:45, prompting McLellan to change goalies. But backup Alex Stalock didn't fare any better on the first shot he faced when a John McCarthy shot was blocked and MacKinnon got his second goal at 5:59 after Jason Demers was turned inside out.
McLellan made it clear he was doing more than just trying to spark his team by pulling Niemi.
"I didn't like the third goal. It has to be stopped," the coach said. "And I didn't like the fourth goal. It has to be stopped. I've gone after our team in the new year to try to hold them very accountable and be very aggressive and the goaltender is a part of that."
Colorado penalties helped the Sharks get back into the game.
San Jose need 36 of the 37 seconds it had a 5-on-3 advantage for Pavelski to make it a 4-1 game at 8:35 with a quick wrist shot from just outside the crease. Later, with a delayed penalty coming up on the Avalanche, Marleau made it 4-2 at 10:11 with a one-timer that beat Colorado goalie Semyon Varlamov.
Couture cut the gap to 4-3 just 5:44 into the third period, poking in a loose puck in the crease to extend his goal-streak to a career high four games.
That schedule McLellan referred to presents the Sharks with an even tougher challenge as they left immediately after the game for frigid Chicago where they face the Blackhawks on Sunday night.
-- The game had its chippy moments with Andrew Desjardins in the middle of most. Cameras caught him spearing Colorado center John Mitchell in the groin on the faceoff after the fourth Avalanche goal. Desjardins only drew two minutes for slashing and after the game he was both apologetic -- "I wasn't trying to do what ended up happening" -- and relieved.
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