THE MAN IN GOAL
Since March 4, one man has kept the Sharks in most of their games. From March 4 until the end of the regular season, he won 11 of his 15 appearances and his three losses came in overtime.
Once again on Wednesday night in Game Four of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against Nashville, Evgeni Nabokov performed his netminding magic. Nabokov stopped 23 of 25 Predators shots – including all 14 in the first period.
“Let’s face it, ’Nabby’ bailed us out tonight,” defenseman Scott Hannan said. “He made some big saves for us.”
Wednesday night’s game may have been just a typical night for the 31-year-old goaltender. Typical lately, that is. Over Nabokov’s last 15 regular season appearances, he saved nearly 94 percent of his shots, had a 1.80 goals-against average and three shutouts.
In the quarterfinals, he’s won three of the four games.
“I’ve always said that I’m not going to be able to do everything myself,” Nabokov said. “The guys sacrifice themselves. Everybody was working hard.”
For most of the regular season, Coach Ron Wilson went with a rotation system with Nabokov playing every other game along with Vesa Toskala. But from Feb. 14 until the end of the season, Nabokov was the hot goaltender and missed only two games, both of those coming on the second of back-to-back contests.
Nabokov has some simple reasons for his recent success.
“I’m just trying to play one game at a time,” he said, “and give the guys a chance to win. That’s all I’m trying to do.”
Playing in front of a strong goaltender has been a big help to San Jose’s defense.
“It’s awesome,” defenseman Christian Ehrhoff said. “We can play with a lot of confidence. He’s going to be there when we make a mistake. Nabby is hot right now.”
WHAT HAPPENED TO…
Nashville fans may want to send an all-points bulletin out to find the missing games of center Peter Forsberg and left wing Paul Kariya.
Forsberg had two goals and three shots in San Jose’s 5-2 loss in Game Two. But in the other three games, he’s got just one assist and three shots. Kariya has seven shots, no goals and two assists.
Forsberg was the first major acquisition at this year’s trading deadline as he came from Philadelphia. The two-time Stanley Cup Champion with Colorado had 13 assists and 15 points in 17 games with Nashville.
For the second straight season, Kariya led the Predators in scoring with 76 points. However, Kariya’s goal scoring was down as he had 24 this year, compared to 31 last season.
Success in hockey comes from limiting a player’s time and space. According to Ehrhoff, that’s the reason why San Jose has kept Forsberg and Kariya off the scoresheet.
“We’re playing them tight,” Ehrhoff said. “We don’t let them get room and we flush the puck out right away. We have to keep it going.”
It’s not the name of a new television show, but it’s a state of mind Nashville will be in when Game Five takes place Friday night at Nashville Arena.
The Sharks lead the series, 3-1. But the Predators will be playing in front of a loud and sold-out partisan crowd.
“We expect a desperate team,” Hannan said when asked to preview Friday’s contest. “They’re going to be coming out flying and will have their fans behind them. We just want to come out and focus on playing our game. If we can weather the storm, it will be good.”
“Any time you’re desperate makes for a pretty good game,” forward Joe Pavelski
said. “We know they’re going to be desperate and we have to be, too.”
Of course, Wednesday’s win was a good thing for the Sharks. But as Ehrhoff said, the satisfaction will be short-lived.
“There’s no time to enjoy it right now,” he said. “We have to get ready for the next game. The series isn’t over yet. You need four wins. We have to come prepared. We have to be ready for them.”