Photo by John Russell
Scott Walker (right) tries to pull away from Jonathan Cheechoo, who figured in all three San Jose goals in Game 2.
The Nashville Predators found themselves in penalty trouble early Sunday afternoon and the San Jose Sharks capitalized, scoring twice on five-on-three power plays and once with a single-man advantage to win Game 2 of the Western Conference Quarterfinal series 3-0 at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. The victory ties the series at one game apiece as it shifts to San Jose for games 3 and 4.
The Predators were whistled for five penalties in the opening 20 minutes as the referees called the game very tightly. Nashville went on to rack up a total of ten minor penalties while San Jose committed nine. "I think we should have learned our lesson," said Predators defenseman Brendan Witt. "I think we're a little stubborn. [NHL Commissioner Gary] Bettman also released that any official that puts his whistle away is not going to continue in the playoffs. So they've got orders from the head honcho himself. You can't blame them. We just have to change our game and be more disciplined."
"We talked about this before the game," Predators head coach Barry Trotz said. "We knew that San Jose had complained a lot about the refereeing last game. Gary Bettman was in the building [Sunday]. It's been mandated that penalties will be called.... We knew that they'd be a little bit whistle-happy, because of the fact that if they don't call the penalties they're not going to be doing any games. So we knew that. I didn't like the way we responded. Obviously we took too many penalties. We took nine over two periods. That was a lot of power-play time to try to kill."
The Predators were short-handed for 16:03 of the 60-minute game, but were also unable to crack the San Jose penalty kill despite having nine power-play opportunities of their own. Nashville was four-for-seven with the man-advantage in the series opener on Friday. "It was kind of role reversal from Game 1," said defenseman Mark Eaton. "They capitalized. We didn't."
"I felt that we were not as eager to get to the net as we were last game," said Predators forward Scott Walker. "We tried to play a perimeter game and definitely on the power play you've got to get to the net and make it tough for them to see."
Now the series heads to San Jose for Game 3 at 9:30 p.m. CT Tuesday night. "They wanted to come here and split and steal one in our barn," forward Steve Sullivan said. "Well, we have to go back and steal one in theirs. By doing so, we'll gain back home-ice advantage. Our minimum is going to San Jose and taking one."
San Jose forward Jonathan Cheechoo, the NHL's leading goal scorer during the regular season, put the Sharks up 1-0 with his first tally of the series at 5:37 of the first period. He would go on to figure in all three goals by his club, assisting on the two other power-play goals that came later in the period. Cheechoo's goal was a simple tap-in at the left post, converting a through-the-slot pass from Patrick Marleau at the right point while Predators Mike Sillinger and Danny Markov served time in the penalty box.
Later in the period, Witt and Jerred Smithson were whistled for holding and kneeing, respectively, just over one minute apart to give San Jose another lengthy five-on-three. The Sharks only needed 15 ticks to cash in, as Cheechoo's stuff attempt at the left post pinballed to Nils Ekman then into the slot for Patrick Marleau. The Sharks captain zipped a low shot that slid beneath Chris Mason, whose reaction to the pinballing puck had left him helplessly turned around.
The goal, which put San Jose up 2-0 at 16:31, released Witt from the box. One minute later, the Sharks capitalized on Smithson's remaining penalty time. From the top of the left circle, Cheechoo fed Mark Smith with a cross-ice pass that the latter converted for his second goal in as many games. It was 3-0 with 2:29 remaining until the first intermission.
From then on it was an uphill battle for the Predators. "Obviously if you give them two lengthy five on threes with that group of forwards and that power play, you're going to put yourself behind the eight ball," Trotz said.
Nashville had multiple power-play opportunities--including five in the third period--and generated quite a few chances. None managed to find the back of the San Jose net. "They killed [penalties] very well tonight," said Hamhuis. "They didn't give us much. Their penalty kill forechecked our power play really well and took away the shooting lanes. Give it to their goalie, he played really well."
As for the nearly 30 minutes of game time that didn't involve special teams play, the high number of manpower disadvantages for Nashville played a role there too. "It's hard to get a flow to the game for your lines," Walker said. "You can say, well, you killed well. But you've got five-on-threes early. Now your penalty killers are getting tired and now your guys that don't penalty kill are getting stiff from sitting on the bench. It kind of leads to when you get out five-on-five, you might have one guy tired and two guys that haven't been skating much. We've got to cut the penalties down so we can have more flow on our five-on-five, to get into it."
The fact that the Predators have yet to net an even-strength goal in the series isn't a concern among the players. "I know this team can score five on five," Witt said. "That's the least of our worries."
San Jose outshot the home side 37 to 25 for the game. Nashville goaltender Chris Mason stopped 34 of those 37 Sharks shots, and Trotz was pleased with his performance. "I thought 'Mase' was great," the head coach said. "Five-on-five he was great and also killing penalties--there's nothing he could do on any of those goals."
The Game 2 loss by the Predators in the best-of-seven series necessitates a Game 5 next Sunday at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. Tickets for that contest, which faces off at 7:30 p.m. CT, are now on sale and can be purchased by calling (615) 770-PUCK, ordering online or visiting the GEC box office or any Ticketmaster outlet.
Notes: Nashville won the battle of the face-off circle 58 percent to 42 percent. Center Mike Sillinger was the Preds' top performer, winning 15 of the 20 draws he took (75 percent)... Only two of the six goals San Jose has scored against the Predators have come during five-on-five play. The Sharks have scored twice during five-on-three power plays and twice during five-on-four power plays... Defenseman Kimmo Timonen led all skaters in ice time with 23:46... Blueliner Brendan Witt dished out three hits and blocked four shots... Scratches for Nashville were Tomas Vokoun, Marek Zidlicky, Scottie Upshall, Darcy Hordichuk, Ryan Suter, Vern Fiddler and Yanic Perreault... Attendance at the GEC was 16,707.
Video: Watch the game highlights (:31)
Audio: Listen to head coach Barry Trotz's post-game press conference (5:37)
Official Super Stats