The Sharks continue to win hockey games in various ways this postseason. They got the better of the Kings in the first round winning three of the first four games by one goal. In their Game One win over the Predators, they used a great third period scoring five times to rally for a 5-2 home victory.
Tonight, it was another big finish that allowed San Jose to win Game Two 3-2 over a resilient Nashville. They now lead the Western Conference Semifinal two games to none with the next two in Music City. In many aspects, the Predators probably deserved a better fate but find themselves in a 2-0 deficit needing to respond when the series continues on Tuesday.
The Preds controlled a good portion of the contest. They fired more shots on Sharks goalie Martin Jones, peppering him with 39 shots including 16 in the second period. Despite a 26-17 edge after 40 minutes, they trailed on the scoreboard due to a Logan Couture power play goal that came at 18:36 of the second from Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns. Couture was in the right spot to rebound home a Pavelski shot past Pekka Rinne for a 1-0 lead.
Undeterred, Nashville came out and played a great third. They really carried the play and eventually tied the game up thanks to a nice goal from defenseman Mattias Ekholm. He took a Colin Wilson feed between his legs and in one motion fired a perfect shot thru a maze past Jones tying the score with 7:04 left. Roman Josi picked up the secondary helper.
Ekholm could’ve had more. On the next shift, he was all over the San Jose sign very active pinching and firing shots. That’s what the Preds get from a back end that features Josi and star captain Shea Weber. Josi recorded two assists in the tough defeat. Ekholm had five shots and eight attempts. Along with partner Ryan Ellis, they form a strong second pair behind arguably the league’s best in Josi and Weber.
The goaltending from both sides was superb. There was a ridiculous Rinne stop that denied a Nick Spaling shorthanded bid on a perfect two-on-one feed from Couture. The acrobatic Nashville goalie stoned him keeping the game scoreless prior to Couture’s power play tally. He also made two big saves later when his team trailed. Rinne finished with 22 saves. He wasn’t at fault on either goal he allowed.
For a while, it looked like a more determined Predators would find a way to win Game Two and gain a split like the other three series. They applied pressure but Jones had an excellent night making 37 saves. Many clutch with Nashville going for it late in regulation. It’s funny how that works.
Instead, it was a great transition from the Sharks that resulted in Pavelski’s winner with only 2:40 to go. Joe Thornton made a great pass centering for an open Matt Nieto, who was stopped by Rinne. A quick Pavelski jumped on the loose puck and buried it as a sliding Weber tried to make a last ditch effort to deny him. Pavelski has been clutch this postseason. It was his sixth goal.
After Rinne was pulled for an extra attacker, there was the ever reliable Thornton winning a defensive draw that led to him receiving a Couture clear for an empty netter with 56 seconds left. That made it 3-1 and ironically, wound up the winner. During a mad scramble, Ryan Johansen was able to finally put one past an outstretched Jones following saves on Mike Fisher and Josi at 19:56. But with less than four seconds left, there wasn’t enough time.
And so, these Sharks are now 6-1 this postseason. They continue to find ways to win games. They do it with big performances from their top players. Pavelski, Couture and Thornton all are getting it done. They do it thanks to role players like Joel Ward, who scored a huge go-ahead tally in Game One. They win because the Caveman, Brent Burns continues to rack up points from the blue line and make diving plays like the one he made to deny a Nashville chance. There’s a reason he’s one of three defensemen up for the Norris. He outplayed Drew Doughty in the first round.
San Jose is here because their defense is executing. Marc-Edouard Vlasic remains one of the game’s most underrated performers on D. A great defensive defenseman, he logged a team high 24:03 in 30 shifts finishing plus-one with three shots, seven attempts, and four of the Sharks’ 25 blocked shots. Former Leaf Roman Polak also blocked four. He’s part of a deeper blue line that includes Paul Martin, Justin Braun and Brenden Dillon.
Throw in the steady Jones, who continues to prove he’s a legit number one goalie, and the Sharks are serious contenders. In the past, he was Jonathan Quick’s back up. But when Los Angeles pulled the trigger on a blockbuster trade with Boston involving Milan Lucic, Jones was parted with. The Bruins already had Tuukka Rask. So, they moved Jones to the Sharks, who needed a new number one. All he’s done is win 37 games while posting a 2.27 goals-against average, .918 save percentage with six shutouts in his first year as a starter.
Not bad for a 26-year old who was never drafted despite representing Team Canada at the Under-20 World Junior Championship in 2010. While his former teammate Quick won 40 games and was nominated as one of three goalies for the Vezina along with front runner Braden Holtby and Ben Bishop, Jones was overlooked despite impressive numbers. He’s also a bargain earning three million this season and the following two.
So, is it finally the Sharks’ time? Hopefully.