What a difference a year makes. Just 346 days ago, the 2005-06 San Jose Sharks defeated a gritty Nashville Predators squad in five games to advance to the Western Conference Semifinals. On Friday night in Nashville, the 2006-07 Sharks accomplished that very same feat, eliminating the Predators for the second straight season with the 4-1 series victory.
Captain Patrick Marleau
scored the series-clinching goal for the second time in as many years against the Predators and was a dominant offensive force in the final minutes of the second period and entire third period.
“Just like last year he scored the clincher for us, and again he does it tonight,” said Joe Thornton
. “He’s just a big time player.”
Like Marleau, Thornton produced in big spots throughout the series, posting six assists in the series despite facing a barrage of capable Nashville defenders.
“That’s a great team over there,” Thornton said. “They added some really good players and we added some really good players too. That was just two great teams going at it. It’s just too bad one team had to lose”
Veteran defenseman Craig Rivet, who had nearly seven more minutes of ice time than any other Sharks player, was quick to sing the praises of teammates Thornton and Marleau and the job they did offensively.
“I know the big men worked really hard down low,” said Rivet. “I think that’s the identity of this team: big, strong and skilled. Joe [Thornton], Billy [Guerin] and Patty [Marleau] had an outstanding shift of just being really strong on the puck.
“I think it’s one thing for a guy like him to have the puck, but you need to give credit to the players that he’s playing with to be able to get into the area to be able to score guys. Guys like Cheech, like Patty tonight. Moving into a spot where you can receive a pass. These are things that goal scorers do. Not only is Joe a solid playmaker, but he’s playing with guys that can shoot the puck.”
Scott Nichol’s five-minute major and game misconduct for spearing Christian Ehrhoff changed the entire complexion of the game on Friday. At the time of the penalty, Nashville held a 2-1 lead and appeared to be headed on the power play.
While the referee’s arm was in the air, indicating that Ehrhoff was about to be called for interference, Nichol decided not to take a hit to draw a penalty for his team, but instead overreacted and retaliated with a cheap shot. Nichol speared the blade of his stick into Ehrhoff’s groin and collected Nashville’s sixth game misconduct of the series in only five games.
“I don’t know what it was,” said Ehrhoff. “There was a normal battle going on. I don’t see why he could have been upset.
WILSON’S PEP TALK LOOMS LARGE
At his postgame press conference, Coach Ron Wilson admitted to challenging his top unit of Thornton, Marleau and Guerin to get things going and to dominate. Wilson first swapped Milan Michalek and Thornton during the extended power play at the end of the second period.
“Putting those guys together sometimes really gets Patty [Marleau] going,” said Wilson. “I didn’t think he was effective the first half of the game. So the idea there was to get a spark on the power play and I was thinking of making that change anyway. So we carried it through in the third period.
“They were getting to a lot of pucks. They were really hungry and wanted to make a difference. That’s what great players do.”
“That last shift was unbelievable. And all I said to Joe with 10 minutes left was, ‘Its your time to dominate joe. Both ends. Dominate.’ And we went out and dominated without a doubt.”
Thornton had a similar recollection of the discussion between him and Ron.
“Ronny put us out there for the offensive draw and said, ‘Hey, do something this shift.’”
HURRY UP AND WAIT
With half of the Western Conference teams still playing (#3 Vancouver leads 3-2 over #6 Dallas, #1 Detroit tied 2-2 with #8 Calgary), the Sharks seem eager to hurry home, only to wait to see who they will play next round.
But perhaps more importantly, San Jose will have a handful of days to get home and get rested before likely opening their Western Conference Semifinal series on the road.
“For anybody that ever says it’s tougher if you have more of a layoff [before the second round], that’s just not true,” said Curtis Brown. “It’s real important, especially with the travel these two teams have endured. To get a couple of days to be able to catch up on some rest. I’d just as soon see all those series go long. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. It’s huge to move on, but the quicker you can do it, I believe there’s an advantage to that.”