The Sharks’ Big 3 is back and not a moment too soon.
, Patrick Marleau
and Devin Setoguchi were reunited on the first line Saturday for Game 5 at HP Pavilion against Anaheim and it’s not a stretch to say they saved the Sharks’ season.
Each one scored a goal in the Sharks’ 3-2 overtime victory that narrowed the Ducks’ series lead to 3-2 and forced a Game 6. Thornton had two assists, while Marleau and Setoguchi had one apiece.
Marleau scored the game-winner 6:02 into overtime, with Thornton and Setoguchi notching assists. Talk about a fitting ending for the Sharks.
“We really hadn’t played too much together in this whole series,” Thornton said. “He’s kind of had Patty in the middle. I think we were excited to get back with each other and rekindle the poise and the patience and the work ethic we had during the year. It kind of worked out for us tonight.”
After the Sharks dropped the series opener 2-0, Todd McLellan jumbled his lines, separating Thornton and Marleau. For the most part, they centered different lines in Games 2-4.
Before Friday’s skate, one day after a 4-0 loss in Game 4, McLellan called Thornton and Marleau into his office for a meeting. Both of them had played poorly in that Game 4 loss, and McLellan wanted to try putting them back together on the same line, with Marleau on the wing.
Thornton said he and Marleau asked McLellan to put Setoguchi on that line, too. The coach agreed.
“He’s been playing great,” Thornton said of Setoguchi. “He’s been with us all year.”
During the regular-season, Thornton (86 points), Marleau (71) and Setoguchi (65) combined to score 222 points. Marleau led the team with 38 goals, Setoguchi ranked second with 31 and Thornton was tied for third with 25.
Then the playoffs arrived, and the Big 3 went quiet. Entering Game 5, they had combined for one goal, Marleau scoring in Game 4, and three assists with a plus-minus of minus-6.
Saturday night, though, was just like old times for the trio.
“We’ve played together for most of the year,” Setoguchi said. “We kind of know what to expect when things are going.”
“We have some chemistry there,” Marleau said. “Right now it’s just about everybody contributing, doing different things, not necessarily scoring goals. It’s blocking shots, getting the puck out.”
Maybe so. But for a Sharks team that was shut out twice in the first four games, getting some goals and offense out of Thornton, Marleau and Setoguchi was hugely important.
Thornton and Marleau, in particular, faced huge pressure and scrutiny entering Game 5.
After that Game 4 loss, McLellan talked about the need for his “core” players to start producing.
“We’re obviously happy with their performance tonight,” McLellan said of his first line. “They were challenged. They were challenged in the locker room by the coaching staff. This is supposed to be their time of the year.
“Right now, I don’t think that anything’s changed. There are still people who will question individual character or the team’s character. Whether you squash that for one night, that question will be there again when we get to Anaheim.”
True. But at least the Sharks are going to Anaheim one more time, in large part because Thornton, Marleau and Setoguchi delivered.
“We knew coming in we had to contribute as much as we possibly could,” Setoguchi said. “After last game we were minus-7 between the three of us. We had to come out and have a good game.”
Marleau said it was “no secret” that he and the Sharks’ other top players had to produce.
“You have to have your top players, your core players rise to the occasion and play their best hockey at crunch time.”
No goal Saturday was bigger than Marleau’s game-winner. The final frenzy started when Thornton fired a shot from the right slot then retrieved the rebound off goalie Jonas Hiller’s pads. Thornton took the puck behind the net to the other side and wrapped a pass around in front. From there, the Sharks started jamming away, and Marleau finally muscled the puck across the line, lighting the light.
“Just like basketball, you shoot and follow your rebound,” Thornton said. “That’s all I tried to do. I shot it, and it came out to me. I just wrapped it around. And Patty was determined to put it in the back of the net. He made a heck of a play.”
“He obviously made a great pass,” Marleau said of Thornton. “It was just kind of laying there, and we just kept jamming at it. … We’ll take them any way we can.”
In the first four games, Thornton didn’t have a goal and Marleau didn’t have an assist. Both of those droughts ended in a flash, just 7:25 into the game, on the power play, no less, which has been a Sharks nemesis for much of the series.
First, Thornton won the faceoff, and the puck found its way to Rob Blake then Marleau in the right slot. Marleau whipped a wicked shot that Hiller blocked but couldn’t grab. The puck bounced off Hiller and straight to Thornton, planted next to the crease.
Thornton slammed the puck past Hiller, just inside the right post, giving the Sharks a 1-0 lead.
“It started with Patty again,” Thornton said. “He kind of threw it up high. (Hiller) kind of misplayed it a little bit, and I just had to put it in the open net. But it was a good play by Patty just to shoot high and make sure it wasn’t along the ground. It kind of caught him off guard a little bit. It was an easy goal for me.”
Then in the second period, Setoguchi scored his first goal of the playoffs. Controlling the puck behind Anaheim’s net, Setoguchi faked right, reversed course, circled in front and squeezed a shot past Hiller, just inside the right post.
“It was one of those things where I had some time from behind the net,” Setoguchi said. “I walked out. No shot’s a bad shot from inside 5, 10 feet. Walked out, put a shot on and put it in.”
A big night for the Sharks thanks to the big three on the top line.
SHARKS POWER PLAY BOUNCES BACK
Over the course of this series, the team that has scored first has won the game. And that held true on Saturday night.
On the Sharks first goal of the game, Joe Thornton
won the faceoff and Patrick Marleau
ripped a shot from the right circle that ricocheted off Jonas Hiller’s mask. Thornton was in the perfect spot to jump on the rebound and score on the power play. Marleau was credited with the primary assist, his first of the playoffs.
“It got a little bit away from me,” explained Marleau of his shot that hit Hiller in the mask. “And Joe was able to bounce on the rebound. That’s one of the things that we’re trying to work on; getting our special teams up there.
Special teams played a large role in Saturday night’s victory. After blanking on Game 4’s seven power play opportunities, the Sharks earned their first goal of the night on their second power play opportunity. On the other end of the ice, San Jose’s penalty kill was perfect; all three opportunities for the Ducks were shut down.
San Jose was also able to generate some short-handed offense. While killing a hooking penalty to Rob Blake in the second period, Milan Michalek had a shorthanded breakaway. On the ensuing play, Travis Moen’s attack on the forecheck led to an Anaheim interference penalty.
“The penalty kill is always the key in the playoffs,” said Sharks goaltender Evgeni Nabokov who made 25 saves on the night including four on the Ducks’ power play. “It doesn’t matter who you’re playing against. It’s always the key.”
“The penalty kill was good again tonight,” added Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle
who led the team in power play ice time. “Nabby made some huge saves. The first goal was key – getting out to a lead has been a key thing in both of our wins. Our power play needs to keep getting better and keep being a factor in the games.”
In the postgame press conference, Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan said that special teams were adding confidence to his team. After a slow start in the series, the Sharks are now even with the Ducks in power play goals (3).
“We were rewarded for killing the penalties and scoring on the power play -- there have been some questions about our power play, but I think we’ve evened it up now in the series,” said McLellan. “It’s going to come down to the five-on-five play I think.”