Photo by Getty/Jed Jacobsohn
San Jose defenseman Marc-Eduoard Vlasic pursues Predators center Jason Arnott, who scored a key second-period goal to keep the game close.
The Nashville Predators fell to the San Jose Sharks 3-2 in Game 4 Wednesday night at HP Pavilion at San Jose. Milan Michalek scored twice for the Sharks, who staved off a late rally that included a Scott Hartnell goal with 2:52 remaining in regulation to cut the lead to one goal.
With the loss, the Predators go down three games to one in the best-of-seven Western Conference Quarterfinal series. Game 5 takes place Friday night in Nashville. Game time is 8:00 p.m. CT. The Predators will have to win each of the remaining three games in the series; one more loss will eliminate them from the playoffs.
Milan Michalek scored 3:29 into the game to put San Jose up early, and Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov was superb in stopping all 14 Predators shots he faced through 20 minutes of play. Sharks forward Joe Pavelski and Nashville's Jason Arnott traded goals early in the second before Michalek had a centering pass deflect into Nashville's net to put the Sharks up by two.
Michalek's first goal came seconds after Nashville goalie Tomas Vokoun made a great lunging save on Joe Thornton to prevent an open net goal. Predators winger Alexander Radulov was kneeling on the goal line backing up Vokoun, but the puck never got to Radulov as it caromed off skates and into the right corner. The puck was sent back toward the crease, where Michalek shoveled it past Vokoun at 3:29 of the first.
Vokoun was sharp early, stopping four of five first period shots. He got a little help from the goalposts on two occasions, as Pavelski and Mike Grier each hit iron with shots in Period 1.
Pavelski scored on a rush at 1:06 of the second, winding and firing from above the left circle with only Greg Zanon between him and Vokoun. Pavelski used Zanon as a screen and lasered a shot into the top right corner. Unfazed, the Predators turned the momentum on the next shift. Nashville outworked the Sharks to sustain pressure in the San Jose zone and it ultimately paid off in Arnott's first goal of the playoffs. Arnott and Jordin Tootoo freed the puck up along the right wall and Arnott sent it down low to J.P. Dumont in the right corner. With one move, Dumont fished the puck off the wall and out to the front of the net, where Arnott was making a bee-line for the goal. Arnott snapped a shot past Nabokov to cut the lead to 2-1 at 2:31, just 1:25 after Pavelski's goal.
The Predators then weathered a stretch in which they killed off three consecutive penalties by the 12:33 mark of the second. Nashville's penalty killers were superb to blank the Sharks on all three power plays, but Michalek added his second marker of the game just 30 seconds after the third of those three penalties expired. With the puck, Michalek curled out from behind the Nashville net and backhanded a pass toward the front. The centering feed deflected off the front of a skate blade and under Vokoun to make it 3-1 at 12:53 of the second period.
The Predators nearly cut the lead to one again near the 15:00 mark of the second. While Nashville skated on the power play, defenseman Shea Weber made a nice play to bat down a rocket of a clearing attempt by Scott Hannan and keep the puck in the offensive zone. Arnott ultimately uncorked a quality chance from the slot but it sailed wide right and banked off the end boards to Weber, who had moved the left side of the goal. Weber chopped at the puck and sent it dancing along the goal line but Hannan's skate prevented it from going into the net. Weber got a second rebound chance but again it was blocked in front. The play was reviewed by video replay but confirmed to be no goal.
Vokoun made a nice save on Pavelski's deflection of Bill Guerin's shot with around 4:30 gone in the third, then Tootoo was knocked awkwardly into the boards less than a minute later. Tootoo returned gingerly to the bench and ultimately departed for the Predators' locker room with trainer Dan Redmond during the stoppage at 8:17. Tootoo did not return.
Sharks forward Ryane Clowe took a hooking penalty at 15:40 and Nashville pulled Vokoun to the bench for an extra attacker one minute later. The Predators were able to capitalize on the six-on-four manpower advantage to pull within one. Paul Kariya and David Legwand were working the right side of the offensive zone when Legwand centered the puck. It popped over Nabokov and landed in the crease, where Hartnell was in position to slam the puck across the goal line. Nashville had cut the lead to one with 2:52 left.
The Predators had additional chances during a final push down the stretch and pulled Vokoun again with a minute remaining in regulation. Still they were unable to slip another shot past Nabokov, who finished with 23 saves on 25 shots and first star honors.
NOTES: J.P. Dumont posted an assist on Jason Arnott's goal and has points in each of the four playoff games (4g-2a). Dumont leads the Predators in playoff scoring.. The Predators penalty killers were perfect once again, negating all five power plays they faced. Nashville has allowed just one power-play goal--a 5-on-3 tally--on 23 power plays against... David Legwand assisted on Scott Hartnell's goal and has helpers in three straight games... Jordin Tootoo registered his first career playoff point with an assist on Jason Arnott's goal... Ramzi Abid made his playoff debut in Game 4, registering one hit in 4:36 of ice time... Vitaly Vishnevski, Martin Erat, Darcy Hordichuk and Steve Sullivan were scratched for Nashville.