Photo Credit: Don Smith/Rocky Widner & AP Photo (Tony Avelar)
Phoenix - Curtis Joseph
San Jose - Evgeni Nabokov
On Friday night, the Phoenix Coyotes closed out their season series with the San Jose Sharks, falling to their Pacific Division opponents by the final score of 4-2.
The Sharks created the first quality scoring opportunity of the game at 2:15 of the opening period when San Jose's Mark Bell was able to sneak behind Phoenix forward Jeremy Roenick and race into the Coyotes zone on a breakaway. Bell tried to beat goaltender Curtis Joseph high over the glove, but his shot sailed high of the net and away from trouble.
Joseph would need to stay sharp in the first as the Sharks offense continued to attack the net. With 12:30 left in the period, Phoenix left wing Fredrik Sjostrom committed a turnover in the neutral zone that allowed San Jose's Mike Grier to jump on the loose puck and blast a slap shot from the left face-off circle. However, Joseph was in position and made the save to keep the game scoreless.
At 9:42 of the period, the Coyotes took the first penalty of the game when defenseman Derek Morris was called for hooking. During the ensuing San Jose penalty, the Sharks continued to test Joseph with a series of shots from around the zone, including a trio from point blank range. Fortunately, Joseph was able to keep the Phoenix net clear and allow the Coyotes to return to full strength still tied at 0-0.
Phoenix would try and generate an offensive attack of their own with just over five minutes to play in the first. Former Shark, Owen Nolan nearly gave the Coyotes the first lead of the game when he tipped a shot at the top of the crease, sending the puck past netminder Evgeni Nabokov and off the crossbar. Then, seconds after the deflection by Nolan, Nabokov made a highlight glove save on Phoenix's Zbynek Michalek, who tried to fire the rebound into an open net, only to be denied at the last possible second.
With 3:39 to play in the first, San Jose defenseman Matt Carle was assessed a minor penalty for high-sticking, putting the Coyotes on the power play. Unfortunately, Phoenix would be unable to turn the extra attacker into a goal, but they were able to sustain an offensive onslaught of their own and force the Sharks to use time and energy, playing within their own zone.
Following the expiration of the penalty to Carle, the final moments of the first period quickly trickled off the clock as the Coyotes and Sharks left the ice after 20-minutes of play still deadlocked at 0-0.
Just 1:36 into the second period, the game took a physical turn as Phoenix's Josh Gratton dropped the gloves with San Jose's Doug Murray. The two warriors demonstrated while endurance is so important as they traded punches in the neutral zone for nearly two minutes, before finally being separated by the on-ice officials. Both would receive five-minute majors for their actions, with Gratton incurring an extra two minutes for a cross-checking penalty that occurred just prior to the fight.
The Coyotes would kill off the minor penalty to Gratton, but less than a minute after returning to full strength, Phoenix would commit another turnover inside their own zone and this time the Sharks were able to capitalize. On the play, Coyotes forward Bill Thomas turned the puck over at his own blueline, allowing Grier to send a pass to San Jose forward Pat Rissmiller in the slot; Rissmiller then snapped a quick wrist shot that beat Joseph to give the Sharks a 1-0 lead.
Phoenix would return to the power play at 5:24 of the second when San Jose defenseman Scott Hannan was sent to the box for interference. While the Coyotes would be unable to capitalize on the penalty to Hannan, but with 12-seconds left on the man-advantage, Phoenix blueliner Keith Ballard drew a second penalty when he produced an end-to-end rush that concluded with Ballard being hooked off the puck by San Jose's Christian Ehrhoff. The Coyotes two-man advantage would pass without a tying goal and despite their efforts during the Ehrhoff infraction, Phoenix was still unable to solve Nabokov and even the score at one.
With 4:16 left in the second, San Jose received their third power play of the game when Phoenix's Brendan Bell was called for hooking. The penalty would prove costly for the Coyotes when, following a series of great saves by Joseph, the puck shot out to San Jose's Ehrhoff at the point, where it was shot past Joseph for a 2-0 San Jose lead.
But the Coyotes proved they were not going to go away and just over a minute later, cut the deficit to 2-1 as Fredrik Sjostrom snapped a shot from the right side that beat Nabokov for Phoenix's first goal of the game. Jeremy Roenick and Derek Morris recorded the assists on Sjostrom's ninth goal of the season.
With less than 20-seconds remaining in the stanza, Joseph again stood on his head as he made a remarkable save to slide across the crease and stop a shot by Bill Guerin, keeping the score at 2-1 heading into the second intermission.
At 4:04 of the third period, the Sharks were able to regain the two-goal lead when Mike Grier sent a cross-ice pass to a streaking Scott Hannan in the Coyotes' zone. Once Hannan entered the right face-off circle, he fired a wrist shot that snuck underneath the cross bar for a 3-1 San Jose lead.
Sharks forward and former Maurice Richard Trophy winner Jonathan Cheechoo would strike just 68 seconds after Hannan as he raced in from the left side and snapped a shot over Joseph and into the Coyotes net to make it a 4-1 game. Joe Thornton (84) and Pat Rissmiller (15) recorded assists on Cheechoo's 32nd tally of the year.
Phoenix would get an opportunity to climb back into the game at 8:43 of the third. With the Sharks already serving a delay-of-game penalty to Nabokov, San Jose defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic took a high-sticking penalty to give the Coyotes a two-man advantage. During the ensuing five-on-three, Phoenix center Steven Reinprecht brought the Coyotes back to within two when he grabbed a loose puck at the top of the crease and tucked a shot around Nabokov and into the net at 8:56 of the period. Keith Ballard and Shane Doan recorded the assists on Reinprecht's ninth marker of the season.
The Coyotes tried to move back to within one with under four minutes to play as Nolan snapped a shot from the left side of the Sharks zone that was headed to the top corner of the net, but just caught a piece of Nabokov, sending the puck away from the net.
With 1:37 to play in the third, the Coyotes power play headed back out to the ice on a slashing penalty to Nabokov. To increase their advantage, Phoenix Head Coach Wayne Gretzky pulled Joseph from the net to give his squad a two-man advantage. Then, 34-seconds later, San Jose sent a second player to the box, Curtis Brown (cross-checking), giving the Coyotes a three-man advantage. Despite having twice as many players on the ice as the Sharks, the Coyotes were unable to register the two goals needed to tie the game as Phoenix fell to San Jose by the final score of 4-2.