With a roster ravaged by a virus that cut a swath through their locker-room, the Vancouver Canucks valiantly hung with San Jose for the better part of 40 minutes on Saturday night.
They battled back from a 1-0 deficit, hit two posts and had a number of other point-blank opportunities on Sharks goalie Martin Jones.
But once the visitors nosed in front again, the air was let out of Vancouver's balloon.
Patrick Marleau scored the winner with 55.7 seconds left in the second period and Jones made 35 saves as the Sharks downed the undermanned Canucks 4-1.
Vancouver was without five players because of the mumps, or symptoms associated with the highly contagious virus, forcing the club to use three AHL callups against the top team in the Pacific Division.
"We played a pretty good game all the way through," said Canucks head coach Willie Desjardins. "We just didn't quite have the jump we needed (in the third).
"Our young guys came up and played hard. The first two periods I thought we gave ourselves a real chance to win that game."
Troy Stecher is the only member of the Canucks with a confirmed case of the mumps, but fellow defencemen Christopher Tanev and Nikita Tryamkin, along with forwards Mike Chaput and Markus Granlund have all shown symptoms.
Vancouver summoned four players from the Utica Comets for the game – defencemen Evan McEneny and Jordan Subban, as well as forwards Alexandre Grenier and Joseph Labate. The 22-year-old McEneny, an undrafted free agent signed in 2012, made his NHL debut, while Subban was a healthy scratch.
"I thought we played a good game for 60 minutes, battled hard," said Daniel Sedin, who had Vancouver's goal. "The young guys came in and played really well.
"Tough one to lose."
The Canucks lost another defenceman when Luca Sbisa left after the second period with what the team called the stomach flu. In a press release announcing the mumps outbreak Friday, the club said that the virus can cause flu-like symptoms, but Desjardins said after the game Sbisa's symptoms were "totally different."
Tomas Hertl, Mikkel Boedker and Logan Couture also scored for the Sharks (36-18-7). Chris Tierney added two assists.
Miller made 22 stops for the Canucks (26-29-6).
The Sharks have not lost a regular-season game in Vancouver since January 21, 2012 – a stretch of 10 games. San Jose sits second in the Western Conference, while the fading Canucks are nine points back of the second wild-card berth.
"It's tough with them having so many guys out," said Jones, a native of nearby North Vancouver, B.C., who is now 4-0-0 at Rogers Arena for his career. "They had a lot of young guys come in and bring a lot of energy, especially early."
With both the Canucks and Sharks coming off their league-mandated five-day breaks, Daniel Sedin hit the post after a Jones giveaway early in the second before San Jose opened the scoring at 3:31 on a sloppy Vancouver change.
Joel Ward's breakaway effort dribbled through Miller and past the post, but Tierney followed up the play and fed a wide-open Hertl for his seventh goal of the season into a vacant Vancouver net at 3:31.
The Canucks kept pushing despite being down 1-0, with Alexandre Burrows and Jannik Hansen – two players who along with Miller could be shipped out of town before Wednesday's NHL trade deadline – forcing saves from Jones in tight.
Vancouver then had a couple of good chances on a power play, including a Brandon Sutter redirection off the post, before Daniel Sedin tied it.
Henrik Sedin intercepted a poor clearing attempt by Sharks defenceman Brent Burns and fed his twin brother, who beat Jones shortside at 12:02 for his 13th of the campaign and second in 17 games.
Vancouver came close on another power play, but Bo Horvat fired wide from the slot with Jones completely out of position.
"We had a lot of pucks going to the net – gave us some zone time, gave us some control," said Miller. "Just unfortunate we couldn't find a little bit more."
The Sharks would make the Canucks pay when Marleau scored his 22nd after collecting a pass below the goal line and tucking the puck inside the post with less than a minute left in the period.
Boedker then put the game out of reach with his seventh, and first in 20 games, after grabbing a turnover in the neutral zone and beating Miller over the blocker at 11:31 of the third.
Couture made it 4-1 on the power play at 14:20 with his 20th, picking the shortside top corner on Miller.
"You gotta give them credit, they played a real good game tonight, right from the drop of the puck," said Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer. "For a short lineup they played hard, they played fast, they gave us some issues, so hats off to them for the effort they had."
Notes: The mumps virus is found in saliva and respiratory droplets. It is spread person to person through coughing, sneezing or coming into contact with saliva. ... Marleau scored the 500th goal of his career in the Sharks' victory at Rogers Arena on Feb. 2. Tierney had two goals in that one, but was held pointless in eight straight before Saturday's two assists. ... The Canucks host to Detroit on Tuesday, while San Jose welcomes Toronto the same night.