In their first home playoff game in nearly two years, the San Jose Sharks returned to the Tank Tuesday night as they played host to the Nashville Predators in Game 3 of the 2006 Playoffs presented by Intersil. As expected, a jam-packed HP Pavilion filled with 17,496 Sharks fanatics, welcomed home Team Teal after they tied the series at one apiece on Sunday and they did not go home disappointed. San Jose exploded with four unanswered goals over the final two periods to pull out the win.
Coming off an exceptional effort in which he earned his first playoff victory and shutout, Vesa Toskala was sent to the net for the Sharks, while Chris Mason opposed him for Nashville.
It didn’t take long for the Sharks top line of Joe Thornton
, Jonathan Cheechoo and Nils Ekman to start buzzing in front of the Predators net, as they got off three shots on goal within the first minute of play, but none of them got the Sharks on the board.
Ville Nieminen got the crowd in the game early when he laid a huge hit on Dan Hamhuis. The gritty winger received a boarding penalty for his efforts, however, and the Predators went on the power play for the first time. No more than 20 seconds in to the advantage, Vesa Toskala made his first unbelievable save of the night when he batted a puck out of the crease at the last second, thwarting a Nashville goal. The Sharks were able to kill of the remaining time in the advantage as the sides returned to even strength.
Six minutes into the first, San Jose went on the power play for the first time after Mark Eaton was called for hooking. It was Nashville who would light the lamp first, however, when Greg Johnson headed down the ice leading a three-on-one. The Predators captain fed Kimmo Timonen with a perfect one-time pass and the blueliner found the back of the net, giving the Predators the 1-0 lead.
With 24 seconds left on Eaton’s penalty, Nashville was sent to the box yet again when Timonen was whistled for holding, but both penalties expired without a San Jose goal despite several shots.
With just over five minutes left in the first, San Jose went back on the power play after David Legwand was sent to the sin bin for hooking. The Sharks kept the puck in the Predators zone nearly the entire two minutes, but still couldn’t solve Mason.
The first period came to a close with the Sharks out-shooting the Predators 14-5, but they found themselves trailing 1-0.
It wasn’t until nearly seven minutes into the second when the Sharks got their first good shot on goal in the period. It came off the stick of Marcel Goc after he deked a Predators defender and placed a quality shot on net, but the center couldn’t find the back of the net.
Rookie defenseman Matt Carle continued his solid play on the Sharks blueline when he made two sensational plays, breaking up passes that would have led to odd-man attacks.
Midway through the frame, Kyle McLaren was sent to the box for tripping, sending the Preds onto their second power play of the night. But Nashville had a tough time keeping the puck in the offensive zone as the Sharks killed off the penalty.
Immediately after McLaren left the box, Patrick Marleau
tied the game at one when he wristed a shot from the left faceoff circle that traveled five-hold past Mason. The goal ignited the Sharks faithful and got the crowd back in the game.
Less than a minute after the game-tying goal, Joe Thornton
was hooked by Scott Nichol, sending the center to the box and giving the Sharks yet another power play. San Jose got caught passing a little too much on the power play and could not get a solid attempt on net. The penalty expired with the score remaining knotted at one.
Toskala saved what was sure to be another Predators goal after Carle made a pass that was deflected, sending Nashville down the ice on a two-on-one. Similar to the Predators first goal, Mike Sillinger was fed the puck at the last second, but this time Toskala was up to the challenge, as he made a huge save on the attempt.
San Jose went back on the power play after Eaton was whistled for tripping Milan Michalek. With just 10 seconds left on the advantage, Steve Bernier buried his first career playoff goal. The rookie corralled a loose puck in front of the net and wristed it past Mason who was shifted to the other side of the net after blocking a Christian Ehrhoff slapshot. The Sharks took their first lead of the night and they carried the 2-1 lead into the locker room.
The third began by an extended shift from Marleau, Bernier and Michalek again controlling play down low. They could not add to the lead, but did once again did display their strength advantage.
The talented Nashville power play took to the ice three minutes into the contest, but not once did they truly threaten Toskala. At every turn, a Shark or their stick was in the shooting lane and not one shot reached Toskala. The advantage went away when Tom Preissing finished the kill with a clearing shot. Danger would not go away though as Cheechoo was called for a delay of game penalty. This time Nashville would get one shot off, but again would not tie the game.
Outside the goals, Scott Thornton may have delivered the best highlight when he delivered a bone-crushing hit to Brendan Witt that put the bruising Nashville defender on the ice. Joe Thornton
seemed intent of getting the Sharks some breathing room, creating two separate scoring chances with five minutes remaining, but Mason was keeping Nashville in the game. However, Cheechoo finally solved Mason. Skating across the blueline, he unleashed a bomb that Mason couldn’t close on and it trickled across the line.
Following that play, Marleau made it 4-1. He simply undressed a Predators blueliner – putting the puck between the defenders leg and coming out with it on the other side – and came the other side. He then wrapped the puck around Mason to put a closing stamp on the game.