Having dispatched the Anaheim Ducks from the NHL post-season, the Nashville Predators took their act up the coast, and travelled to San Jose to take on the Sharks.
The parting message was clear on the Preds white board at Bridgestone Arena. The team was getting set for a game seven matchup in California and the board read “Pack for six days.” — A coach’s challenge if you will. Expect to win, and expect to stay. And that’s exactly what happened.
Today is day six and the Preds are on their way home. Unfortunately, the details of their trip to San Jose don’t tell as positive a tale as we’d like to share with you here.
The Sharks have had their problems in their home arena, and have excelled on the road. They removed the dangerous Los Angeles Kings in round one in just five games, with home ice advantage belonging to LA. The Sharks won three of the four games in that series at Staples Center, and split the two games played at HP Pavilion in San Jose. The Predators came to town and, as the road team, needed to at least split the two games there, and come back here today in position to dominate at Bridgestone Arena, where the fans have been absolutely rabid since the game six sendoff vs. Anaheim.
Nothing ever goes the way you plan, it seems. San Jose, victorious in both games vs. Nashville, has taken a decidedly steep two game lead with wins on both Friday and Sunday evening. Each game had Nashville in a position to upset the Sharks, but each game turned in San Jose’s favor as time was winding down, and while all three other NHL Round Two contests had turned into 1-1 affairs, only the Predators head home in an 0-2 hole, despite some positive signs in the two games.
On Friday night, both teams had a feeling out process of sorts, and it wasn’t until an early second period power play goal from Mike Fisher that either team lit the lamp. Nashville, whose play with the extra man during the San Jose series was decidedly dismal, were able to convert on their second (and last) opportunity of the night.
Unfortunately, their penalty killing betrayed them early in the third period as a Shark goal by Tomas Hertl, with the extra man tied the contest. Former Predator Joel Ward gave San Jose their first lead midway through the final stanza, and then the Shark power play struck a second time as Logan Couture tallied, and gave the home team a 3-1 lead. Time was winding down when the Preds mounted a furious attack and cut the lead to 3-2 with a Roman Josi shot deflected in off the head of Ryan Johansen. The team pulled Pekka Rinne and added the sixth attacker, but San Jose netted two empty net goals and the final read 5-2, though not completely indicative of the overall play of the Predators in the game.
Nashville, while outshot 38-31 did have stretches of time where they got chances against the Sharks, but seemed to have run out of gas in the third period. San Jose, playing on a week’s rest, and Nashville having won that emotional game in Anaheim just 48 hours prior, it could have been expected to see some fatigue set in.
Both teams had a day to reset for Sunday’s contest, and the Preds were also given a boost with the return of Craig Smith, who had missed Friday’s contest, still bothered by the lower body injury that that plagued him in the Duck series. Smith, a valuable forward in the Predators system, might prove to be the catalyst against a stingy Shark defense.
The game, as in the opening game, featured a scoreless first period, with Nashville owning a slight territorial edge, and neither team able to convert on their lone power play chance. In the second period, both teams gave their goaltenders a chance to shine, and once again Nashville held a bit of a territorial edge, but could not seem to solve Shark netminder Martin Jones. A too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty against the Preds led to yet another Sharks power play, and once again Couture delivered a crushing blow in the final minutes of period two, as San Jose grabbed the lead.
By the midway point of the third period, frustration set in for fans of the Nashville Predators, they had once again seemed to have waves of domination territorially, but nothing was going right around the Shark net. A power play opportunity proved futile, and San Jose cleaned up any potential messes in their own zone. Finally, with just over seven minutes to go in the game, the Preds solved Jones, as defenseman Mattias Ekholm grabbed a nifty pass from Colin Wilson and fired a shot that eluded the San Jose goaltender thanks to some good work in front by diminutive Preds forward Viktor Arvidsson.
While momentum seemed to shift back to the Predators, it was again the skilled forwards of the Sharks who rose to the occasion, as Joe Pavelski beat Rinne with about two and a half minutes to go in the game, and the Sharks again regained the lead. An empty net goal by Joe Thornton had San Jose up by two, and as the final seconds ticked down, Johansen managed to score a late goal off a big scramble in front of the net, thereby making the final score 3-2, but sending Nashville home with nothing to show for what was an excellent road performance that on any other night, against any other goaltender, might have been a jubilant triumph rather than another setback in the road to Lord Stanley’s cup.
Tuesday night, the Predators and Sharks face off at 8pm Central time. To call it a “must win” situation only emphasizes the fact that the Sharks are considered a team that will play their best hockey on the road, and the Preds need to continue to do many of the things they established in Game Two, but hope that Jones does not come up as big as he did in his building.