Photo courtesy of San Jose Sharks
Paul Kariya carries the puck up ice in Game 3 at the HP Pavilion at San Jose.
The Nashville Predators fell behind 2-1 in their best-of-seven Western Conference Quarterfinal series Tuesday night, allowing four straight San Jose goals in the final 30 minutes of play en route to a 4-1 loss at the HP Pavilion at San Jose. The series continues here Thursday night with Game 4 at 9:30 p.m. CT.
Despite withstanding an early onslaught and netting the first goal, the Predators' scoring chances were limited for the game. The Sharks outshot the visitors 40-17 thanks in part to more than twice as much time--16:20 compared to 8:00--on the power play. Though 6'4", 223-pound center Joe Thornton was kept off the scoresheet, his 24:44 of ice time led all skaters and according to Sharks coach Ron Wilson, was a crucial factor in the outcome of the game.
"Joe Thornton, even though he's not getting points, is totally controlling the game when he's on the ice," Wilson said. "[He's] making plays and he's just unbelievable how he competes and is so strong. It's got to be frustrating to play against.
"You're not going to take the puck from him," he added. "He's going to hold it, hold it, and [Jonathan Cheechoo] and [Nils Ekman] or whoever else are trying to get themselves open. At some point, after holding it for 30 seconds, he's worn the other player down and he makes his move, and out comes a stick or an arm and it's a penalty. It's very hard to defend a guy of that size when he's that determined."
The combination of fatigue and frustration led to several Predators penalties, an increasing number of which Predators head coach Barry Trotz said he is beginning to scrutinize. "If you want to go by the letter of the law, they probably are penalties, but some of them--I'm not exactly sure what the rules are anymore," Trotz said. "The rules for [Joe Thornton], I guess."
Unlike the first two games of the series, neither team's power play was the difference Tuesday. Three of San Jose's four goals came at even strength, while Nashville's lone tally was a short-handed one. Still, the Sharks' manpower advantages brought territorial and momentum benefits that took their toll on the Predators.
"We spent too much time in our own zone," Trotz said.
Nashville defenseman Kimmo Timonen put the Predators up 1-0 when he converted a short-handed rush early in the first period. Greg Johnson picked the puck up in front of the benches in the neutral zone and took it in for a two-on-one with Jerred Smithson to his left. Smithson charged the net while Johnson fed Timonen, who trailed Smithson and fired the puck past Sharks goaltender Vesa Toskala at 6:33.
"I thought that was huge for us," Trotz said. "We knew [the Sharks] were going to come hard with the crowd behind them and the momentum. We had to weather a storm there. We did that."
At the other end of the ice, Predators goaltender Chris Mason was called on to make a number of big stops in the opening 20 minutes. Just 21 seconds after giving Nashville a lead, Timonen was whistled for a holding penalty that put the Predators down two men for nearly half a minute. Blueliner Tom Preissing flubbed on San Jose's best opportunity on the five-on-three and during the five-on-four advantage that followed, Marleau backhanded the puck wide right on a rush. Seconds later Marleau was denied by Mason on a solid bid at the right edge of the crease.
In the latter half of the period, Martin Erat set up two high quality chances that tested Toskala. First he found Paul Kariya from behind the goal line for a crisp shot from the slot. Then on his next shift he fed a cross-ice pass to defenseman Dan Hamhuis for a one-timer. Still, the Sharks outshot the Preds 14-5 for the period, buoyed by three power-play opportunities.
San Jose clawed back in the second with two goals. The first came on a rush just after a Predators power play ended, as Marleau brought the puck into the offensive zone and fired a shot from the left circle that beat Mason between the legs.
"It came off the stick and it kind of handcuffed me," Mason said.
The goal, which tied the game at 1-1 at 12:10 of the second, awakened the crowd, and the Sharks rode the adrenaline surge for several minutes. Scott Nichol's hooking penalty at 12:55 led to some close calls on the ensuing power play, but Adam Hall cleared one loose puck from the slot before Jonathan Cheechoo could pounce on it and Mark Eaton was lying prostrate when he blocked an attempted pass through the crease.
The Sharks' second goal was a power-play marker that Mason had no chance of stopping. Christian Ehrhoff's shot from the top of the left circle deflected off Hamhuis' stick back across the slot to Steve Bernier, who deposited the puck into the left side of the net before Mason could recover from the misdirection. That tally put the Sharks up 2-1 at 18:48.
Nashville generated a few good chances in the third but Toskala slammed the door to prevent any sort of rally. Instead, San Jose ended up getting the next goal. Cheechoo scored with a shot from the right circle that squeezed through Mason's legs and trickled into the net at 15:38 of the third.
"I just went down, and I don't know how it went through," Mason said. "I've got to get that. It's just a bad goal."
"Chris would want the first and third [goals] back, but he gave us a chance to be in there," Trotz said. "Even in the third we were hanging on a little bit. We had some great chances. [Mike] Sillinger had two chances when it was 2-1, and they go down and end up scoring. That sort of was the turning point, that third goal."
Just over a minute later, Marleau pocketed his second of the game and third of the series when he recovered from whiffing on a shot, moved around a defenseman, then pulled the puck to his forehand to put it by Mason. Penalties to Shea Weber and Jerred Smithson in the final minute and a half of play forced the Predators to finish the game two men down, squelching any hope for a late surge.
Now Game 4 becomes an incredibly important one for the Predators Thursday. Should they lose, they will return to Nashville down 3-1 in the series and facing elimination in Game 5 on Sunday. On the other hand, if they win, the series is knotted at 2 games apiece and the Predators will have recaptured their home-ice advantage.
"Every game's the biggest game," Trotz said. "The next game is going to be one that we're going to have to continue to try to get."
"We can't let these guys get two games up on us," Mason said. "I gave up a bad goal in the third. It's tough and I can't do that and I'll be better the next game. We've got to come out fighting."
Notes: Kimmo Timonen's short-handed goal was the second of his career. He has three points (1g-2a) over the first three games of the conference quarterfinal series. He led all Predators in ice time Tuesday with 22:34... Timonen's goal was also the second playoff shorty in franchise history. The first came when David Legwand scored while killing a penalty in Game 3 of the 2004 first-round series against Detroit (April 11, 2004 in Nashville)... All five Predators who took more than three draws in Game 3 finished with a win percentage of 60 percent or better in the face-off circle... Scott Hartnell led all skaters in hits with six. Brendan Witt was a close second with five... Scratches for Nashville were Marek Zidlicky, Scottie Upshall, Darcy Hordichuk, Ryan Suter, Vern Fiddler, Yanic Perreault and Tomas Vokoun... Attendance at the HP Pavilion at San Jose was 17,496--a sell-out.
Audio: Listen to head coach Barry Trotz's post-game press conference (5:08)
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