SAN JOSE -- The Nashville Predators' Game 7 dreams, so positive and hopeful in the hours before the opening faceoff Thursday, turned negative and bleak in less than a period.
The San Jose Sharks dominated the first 20 minutes of Game 7 of the Western Conference Second Round at SAP Center, scoring twice on 17 shots on goal to put themselves on the path to a 5-0 victory that has them in the conference final against the St. Louis Blues.
"Obviously not the Game 7 you want to have," said Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne, who allowed all five goals and was pulled 3:54 into the third period, sentenced to the end of the bench to watch the remainder of the game with a gold ball cap on his head and a 1,000-yard stare. "We just didn't seem to get anything going on. They had a lot of jump when they came in the first period. We just weren't able to match that."
No player suffered through the nightmare worse than Shea Weber, the Predators' No. 1 defenseman and captain. Game 7 proved to be his own personal house of horrors; he was on the ice for all five goals.
"It was a tough night," Weber said. "We're expected to log some minutes and play some good hockey, and I don't think we were at our best. It's tough. It feels like we have let each other down. I know that I could have been better, and it's hard."
Video: NSH@SJS, Gm7: Pavelski beats Rinne on the power play
On the first goal, Weber was out of position on the penalty kill and falling to the ice away from Sharks forward Joe Pavelski, who one-timed a low-to-high pass from Patrick Marleau past Rinne.
Still, there was a bit of hope when it was 2-0 at the intermission. In Game 6, Nashville rallied from down two goals in the first period to win in overtime and force Game 7.
On this night, Logan Couture scored 39 seconds into the second period, dashing the Predators' hopes of a repeat comeback performance.
"It didn't help that they scored that third goal right away at beginning of second period," Rinne said.
Weber was responsible, in part, for that goal too. He misplayed the puck along the half-wall, and it spilled right onto Couture's stick for a breakaway.
Video: NSH@SJS, Gm7: Couture snaps it past Rinne
Rinne, though, had no interest in talking about the mistakes his captain made. Weber, Rinne said, has bailed everyone else out too many times.
"Oh, man, it's Game 7 so it makes it …," Rinne said, losing his thought momentarily, perhaps haunted by memories of the five goals he allowed. "I wanted to make all those saves. I wanted to help the team. It's never one guy; you lose as a team. He's our leader and our captain. It's a fast game and pucks are bouncing, and sometimes I bail [them] out and tonight I wasn't able to."
Rinne smashed his stick against the goal post when he was pulled, breaking it and then throwing it into the corner. It was a rare display of anger from the veteran goalie, one he termed "childish" and for which he expressed contrition.
Video: NSH@SJS, Gm7: Sharks advance to WCF with Game 7 win
But it also was honest.
It was a reflection of another missed opportunity, another lost chance to take the Predators to a new level, to play in the conference final for the first time in their history.
It was also a realization that he wasn't good enough in the biggest game of the season and that he had plenty of company in that nightmare.
"We're going to look back and we are not going to like the game we played," Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said. "It has nothing to do with our top pair, top line or third line. We know that we are capable of more as a group and capable of playing better than we did."