Ryane Clowe’s game winning goal in the shootout coupled with Antti Niemi’s 35 combined saves helped the San Jose Sharks secure a hard fought 2-1 win over the Nashville Predators before another full house at the Shark Tank. The Sharks, engaged in the fight for their playoff lives, picked up two critical points in the Western Conference Standings to keep pace with the Calgary Flames, Colorado Avs and Phoenix Coyotes. The Sharks once again had to deal with another hot opposing goalie, this time Nashville’s Pekka Rinne who’s 38 saves held the frustrated Sharks off of the scoreboard for the first two periods. It took a power play goal from Sharks Captain Joe Thornton early in the third period to tie the game after trailing 1-0 for a majority of the contest.
The win is also critical for the Sharks who counting this game will have six of their next seven games at home with many against teams in their division or conference. By the time this stretch of games is over, the Sharks post season fate may (or may not) be known. Thursday’s game also featured the return of Martin Havlet to the Sharks line up for the first time since a week before this past Christmas. Though a step behind, Havlet played for the most part a solid game in his return. The Sharks in this game were not at all lethargic as they have been in games over the last six weeks, but still had to deal with just some really hard “puck luck” before things finally turned around for team teal in the third period.
Recapping the Grinder at The Tank:
Let’s Grind- The Sharks came out of the gate loaded for Bear (or in this case Predator) and immediately went to work on Predators’ goalie Rinne. Joe Pavelski, Justin Braun and Daniel Winnik got pucks on Rinne early as team teal put some pressure on the Nashville zone. Torrey Mitchell and Havlet would test Rinne later with the Preds goalie coming up with the puck in his glove each time. Niemi meanwhile would see some traffic too however the Sharks did a good job of keeping their zone relatively clean for much of the period. In fact team teal held Nashville to just one shot on goal for over the opening 12 minutes of the game.
With 8:37 remaining in the first period, Marc-Edouard Vlasic would get whistled for a high sticking call giving the Predators their first power play opportunity of the contest. The Sharks for the most part did a decent job on the penalty kill, holding Nashville to a Shea Weber shot on goal for most of the kill. However, the Predators know as well as anyone that perseverance pays off and ultimately it did as Patric Hornqvist took a feed pass from Mike Fisher (aka Mr. Carrie Underwood) and stuffed the puck under Niemi five hole to give Nashville a 1-0 lead.
The Sharks would go on to out shoot the Predators 13-7 in the first period and kept a consistent amount of traffic in front of Rinne. However, by the time the period had ended it was obvious that Rinne was on top of his game and team teal would have to work harder for everything they could get. Patrick Marleau came close to tying the game with 5:19 to go in the first period but was stuffed by Rinne. The Nashville goalie however did not control the puck creating a wild scrum in front of the goal before the Predators were able to clear it and not allowing Logan Couture to get his stick on the rubber biscuit.
Ground Round- The second period was a meat grinder for both teams as they would combine for a total of 28 shots on goal with 15 of them belonging to team teal. Barely 40 seconds into the period Vlasic fired a hard shot on goal from the point that Rinne was able to collect before Thornton could get his stick on it. Brent Burns and Winnik again would have clear shots at Rinne however came up empty as the Predators goalie had a clear view of all one timers coming in, not allowing too many rebounds for team teal to pounce on. Meanwhile on the other side of the ice, Niemi would get his fair share of the action as he saw Nashville push harder to establish a decent forecheck of their own. However, the Sharks defense despite giving up 13 shots on goal to the Predators made most of Nashville’s entries into the team teal defensive zone a rather rough under taking.
Havlet with 5:48 left in the second period had an excellent opportunity to score once he received a feed pass from Clowe. However, Havlet was never really able to settle down the puck and could not take advantage the open space in the net possible after Rinne fell forward trying to grab the puck. As the period was drawing to a close, Pavelski put a shot on goal that Rinne again saved, and again failed to control. Dominic Moore had shadowed the puck as Pavelski launched it towards the goal, however Moore could get the rebound cleanly and Rinne given a second chance to cover the puck did just that. However the Predators did not get out of the second period unscathed as David Legwand would draw an interference penalty 11 seconds before the end of the period. The Sharks would have 1:49 of power play time carry over to the third period.
Feeling A Little Captain- As the third period began, team teal knew that if they didn’t crack Rinne’s code soon the game could get away from them. However, the Sharks took the bull by the horns on this power play opportunity. Thornton was able to follow up a Boyle slap shot rebound with a wrister that found the back of the net in a wide open spot to tie the game and get the Sharks on the scoreboard. The Sharks had some energy working for them after the power play goal however would soon find themselves not having much more luck against Rinne.
Niemi meanwhile found himself to be a fairly busy goalie himself in this period as he was called on to make 10 tough saves as soon the Predators re-established a decent forecheck. Niemi’s best save came when Legwand nearly atoned for his earlier slashing penalty as a puck got through to him to give him a close range one on one chance on the Sharks goal. Niemi held his ground and was able to make a leg pad save on Legwand’s scoring chance for what probably was the key save of the game. Nashville would out shoot the Sharks 10-4 in the third period however the Sharks stood tall on defense to deny the Predators despite some good looks by Nashville in the Sharks zone. The Predators were equally tough on defense if not tougher, allowing the Sharks only three shots on goal in the remaining 19:08 of the period after Thornton’s game tying goal.
Nothing Comes Easy- In the overtime period the Sharks had a few chances but were not able to cash in, though Marleau came close to a game winner on a shot that deflected from behind the Nashville goal and almost off of Rinne’s backside. Later Boyle had a one on one chance against Rinne and seemingly had the Nashville goalie beat. However, Rinne’s skate caught the puck and stopped it before it could cross the goal line.
In the Shootout period Havlet and Pavelski were both turned away by Rinne, while Niemi shut down Nashville’s Craig Smith and Andrei Kostitsyn. In the third round of the shootout, Clowe would fore go his normal back had shot and drilled a forehand blast that beat Rinne. It would be up to Niemi to stop the Predators last chance from Legwand. Niemi was all over Legwands shot and dived on it as if it were a loose grenade. The Sharks with the win sent the crowd at the Shark Tank home happy for the first time since February 27th.
Game Analysis- This was a good all around effort by the Sharks who certainly had to work for and earn this win, and they did. Nashville is a playoff caliber team that may do damage this post season (much like St Louis will). Beating the Predators was no small feat and it took a good 65 minute effort which they got. The Sharks never quit trying to score, and I’m sure are frustrated as goals seem to be at a premium these days. To the Sharks credit, unlike the last time these teams met three weeks ago back in Nashville, knew the importance of this game and played to the level they needed to play. Team teal deserves a lot of credit for that. Niemi was clutch as he held one of the more potent offensive teams in the league to one goal on 33 shots. Seeing Havlet back on the ice gave the Sharks a desperately needed boost especially now with the playoffs on the line.
Five of the next six games the Sharks play will be at home and will be extremely critical at this point. Simply put, the Sharks must get a streak going and recognize that if you are going to get hot, this would be the perfect time to do so. It may be what they need to do just to make the post season. If the Sharks get to the post season and can get there being absolutely healthy, focused and on fire, than anything is possible. In my 15 game truncated schedule for team teal, they are 2-0-1 with 5 points out of 20 needed to get into the playoffs. With 15 more points needed, that’s about more seven wins over the remaining games. If they can get eight or nine wins, they could get the Pacific Division and the 3rd seed. However, all of this still remains to be seen and they will need some help taking care of Colorado, Calgary, Phoenix and Dallas too. We will see what happens from here, but tonight was a huge win and not a bad start. The Detroit Red Wings will be at the Tank Saturday Night, and will be as tough of a test as this game was. The Sharks need to be ready for that…
GO SHARKS…BEAT DETROIT!!!
The King Shark
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