NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The Nashville Predators spent the past year improving themselves over a season ago. So did the San Jose Sharks.
So the result of the opening round of the playoffs was the same.
Patrick Marleau scored his second goal with 4:21 left as the Sharks grabbed a berth in their third straight Western Conference semifinal round after beating Nashville 3-2 on Friday night.
Marleau tied the game with a power-play goal late in the second and Ryane Clowe also scored as the Sharks closed out Nashville with a Game 5 win on the Predators' home ice for a second straight year.
"I certainly coming into this series didn't expect us to win again in five," San Jose coach Ron Wilson said. "It's almost a carbon copy of last year.
"They took a lot of penalties. The difference was our power play wasn't great. Our five-on-five play was great. Very tight series."
The difference in this series?
A total of two goals and the Sharks keeping their cool. They were at their best in closing out the series. They had seven penalties, but Nashville got only four power plays.
Jason Arnott scored a power-play goal, and Vernon Fiddler also scored as Nashville blew a 2-1 lead in a penalty-filled second. The Predators totalled 19 of 29 penalty minutes and that sapped their energy, particularly during a five-minute major during which Marleau tied the game.
"We kept putting our fingers on the stove, and we got burnt by it," said Nashville coach Barry Trotz, whose future now is in question after three straight quarter-finals losses.
Wilson gambled late in the second and switched up lines, teaming Marleau with Joe Thornton and Bill Guerin - the veteran forward the Sharks traded for in February. Wilson kept that combination into the third, and Thornton passed to Marleau from behind the net for the winning goal.
"He found me open like he always does," said Marleau, who also scored the clinching goal against Nashville last year in the playoffs.
The Predators had two full power-play chances in the third and had the man advantage for the final 24.1 seconds. But it didn't help, and the Sharks ended the series by clearing the puck with 10 seconds left.
"It's too bad one team had to lose," Thornton said. "They had a good chance to go all the way.
"They played hard. We just outworked them, I think, during the five games."
The Predators lost for the third season immediately when facing elimination, and this one hurt the most for a franchise that stocked up on talent, signing Arnott, J.P. Dumont and then trading for Peter Forsberg in February in a deal costing two players and two draft picks.
This may have been Forsberg's final game after injuries and foot problems limited him to 57 matches this season. He finished off the final seconds in the penalty box.
"I don't even know if I'm going to play next year," Forsberg said. "I have to take my time off.
"I struggled so much all year. Coming here though, I had a lot of fun. It's a great group of guys. It's just sad we had to leave and go out so early."
They finished third in the NHL in points with 110, but couldn't beat out Detroit in the Central Division, forcing Nashville into a repeat of last year's quarter-finals.
San Jose controlled the first and led 1-0 after Clowe tapped in the puck off a rebound of Steve Bernier's shot. The Sharks dominated as they outshot Nashville, kept the puck in front of goalie Tomas Vokoun most of the period and broke up passes to frustrate the Predators' offence.
The Predators took a 2-1 lead by scoring twice in 39 seconds of the second, finally getting their only power play through the first 40 minutes. Sharks defenceman Scott Hannan tried to clear Shea Weber's shot as it bounced toward the line, only to see Arnott tap it in at 3:47.
Fiddler scored his first of this postseason from the right circle off a pass from Forsberg.
But unlike San Jose, staying out of the penalty box was the Predators' problem in this series, robbing Forsberg, Paul Kariya and Arnott of ice time as they killed off repeated penalties. It happened again in the second, where the Sharks kept their poise and had five power plays, including 38 seconds of a 5-on-3.
Vokoun did his best to stop the Sharks until Scott Nichol picked up a five-minute major and game misconduct for slashing Hannan after being knocked down twice. Hannan also went to the box for interference.
Marleau tied it 2-2 when Guerin found him with a pass at the right post. Marleau kicked the puck to his stick, then scored at 17:46.
Notes: Officials reviewed two potential goals for the Sharks only to rule no goal, including one that bounced off the left post. ... This was San Jose's 100th all-time post-season game. The Sharks are 49-51 and 8-9 in elimination games. ... Nashville goalie Chris Mason turned 31 on Friday.