Photo by Frederick Breedon
Greg Johnson and Joe Thornton shake hands after the conclusion of the game.
A pair of San Jose Sharks power-play goals put the Nashville Predators in a 2-0 hole that a third-period rally could not overcome Sunday night at the Gaylord Entertainment Center, as the Predators fell 2-1 to the Sharks and were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The loss, Nashville's fourth in a row, closed out the best-of-seven Western Conference Quarterfinal series with a four-games-to-one decision in favor of San Jose.
Paul Kariya scored the Predators' only goal 11:06 into the third period, giving the home team hope for a comeback. But in the end San Jose's special teams outplayed Nashville's--a recurring theme through the final four games of the series.
"That was our Achilles' heel [all series]," goaltender Chris Mason said. "We kept taking penalties. We kept giving them opportunities. Once they got rolling, it just seemed that we couldn't stop them on our penalty kill."
"They had 10 power play goals in the series," Predators head coach Barry Trotz said. "I thought five-on-five we matched up pretty well. They have some dominant type forwards in [Joe] Thornton and [Patrick] Marleau and you're going to spend some time in your own end against those guys. We put ourselves in the box too many times. We penalized ourselves and we penalized our opportunity to be successful."
In the early going Sunday the Predators were tentative clearing their own zone but managed to get the better scoring chances in the first 15 minutes of play. Then Nashville took a string of penalties and spent 4:25 of the period's final 4:34 short-handed. The manpower advantages allowed the Sharks to move ahead of Nashville on the shot counter and the scoreboard. Seconds after David Legwand set up Dan Hamhuis with a blind backhand pass for a short-handed chance that was stopped by San Jose goaltender Vesa Toskala, Milan Michalek carried the puck up the left wing and made a move on Nashville defenseman Kimmo Timonen in the left face-off circle. As time wound down to tenths of a second, Michalek used Timonen as a screen and fired a shot that was deflected on the way by forward Steve Bernier who had charged the net. The play was reviewed and deemed to have crossed the line with :00.3 remaining. San Jose carried a 1-0 lead into the first intermission.
The teams traded chances for most of the second period, then with over 12 minutes gone Kyle McLaren delivered a crunching open ice hit on Kariya as he attempted to carry the puck into the offensive zone. Winger Martin Erat retaliated in defense of Kariya and was whistled for roughing. As the power play neared its completion, Joe Thornton carried the puck up the right wing and angled toward Nashville's net when no defenders closed on him. He then passed across to Marleau for a simple backdoor tap-in that made it 2-0 at 14:24.
At 10:19 of the third, a high-sticking penalty to Tom Preissing gave the Predators their fourth power play. Less than a minute later--at 11:06--forward Steve Sullivan fed a through-the-slot pass to Kariya who slung the puck into the net to cut the margin to 2-1. Kariya, who drew the penalty on Preissing, forced another Shark defenseman to serve a sentence in the penalty box at 14:01. Despite quality chances by Sullivan and Marek Zidlicky, Nashville could not net the equalizer.
"They scored a lucky goal there at the end of the first period," forward Mike Sillinger said. "Then they were ahead at 2-0. We had our back against the wall. We knew it was on the line and we came out and played a great period. We just couldn't get more than one past their goalie."
"There was lots of time and we had a power play," Kariya said of his thoughts after his goal. "We didn't get some shots through and we had some opportunities that didn't go in."
Particularly frustrating was the fact that Nashville worked all regular season for home-ice advantage in the playoffs only to lose two of the three playoff games played at the GEC this series.
"We did have home ice but we were facing a very good hockey club over there and a team that was coming into the postseason on an extreme high," Sullivan said. "With the best player in the world (Joe Thornton) probably playing the best hockey he's ever played. And Patrick Marleau's had an outstanding series. It's tough because we did have home-ice advantage. We do have a special group in here, a bunch of guys that everyone really gets along with--just fun to be around. Too bad it had to end like this."
"This is a tough pill to swallow," Trotz said. "We had high expectations."
Video: Watch the game highlights (:47)
Audio: Listen to head coach Barry Trotz's post-game press conference (6:50)
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