CHICAGO If this were horseshoes, the Sharks might feel a little better.
But playing the Chicago Blackhawks close doesn't really cut it in the NHL, as San Jose dropped a 2-1 decision in a Friday night game that had a little more on the line than just the usual two points.
The Blackhawks had the most to gain a spot in NHL history with a record 17th game without a regulation loss to start the season and got there by overcoming an early goal by Patrick Marleau with an even-strength tally by Viktor Stalberg and a short-handed one by Brandon Saad.
But the Sharks had the most to lose. This was San Jose's third and final game of this abbreviated season against Chicago in the last 17 days and, with two defeats behind them, the last chance to show that the Sharks could compete with the team considered the league's best at the moment.
"More than anything, it'll be a test to see where we're at right now," forward Ryane Clowe said before the game.
The Sharks (8-5-3) held their own in the first period against a Blackhawks team that can skate circles around any opponent on a given night. The reward came with 14.2 seconds left when Marleau crashed the net and slid the rebound of a shot by Joe Thornton under Chicago goalie Ray Emery's pads.
It was Marleau's team-leading 11th goal of the season but only his second in the last 11 games after starting the season with nine in the first five games.
Each team killed off two penalties in the second period, but Chicago (14-0-3) tied the score when Stalberg carried the puck down the left sideboards and threw it toward the net from behind the goal line. The puck caromed into the net off defenseman Brent Burns' stick, and it was a 1-1 game at 16:40.
The winning goal came while Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook was in the penalty box for tripping Logan Couture early in the third period. Saad brought the puck into the San Jose zone and, when Burns backed off him, fired a shot that banked off the far post and into the net at 2:24.
Canucks 1, Predators 0 in Nashville, Tenn. Roberto Luongo was sharp when Vancouver needed it the most.
He made 23 saves for the shutout, and Dale Weise broke a scoreless tie at 9:14 of the third period as the Canucks defeated Nashville.