Was it his block of Jarome Iginla’s shot on a two-on-one rush to close the first period? Or his across-the-crease glove save on Cory Sarich in the opening minutes?
The winner was made clear with 4:51 left when Nabokov, planted at the right post, dived across the goal mouth to spear Owen Nolan’s close-range shot with his glove hand.
The save was one of 21 often-spectacular ones he made in earning his sixth career playoff shutout, and the victory evened the first-round Stanley Cup playoff series at 1-1.
“Sometimes you get lucky,” Nabokov said. “The whole net was open. I was just trying to get my glove on the puck.”
The feat was met with a lasting ovation from the sellout crowd of 17,496 at HP Pavilion, with many serenading him with chants of “Nabby, Nabby.”
“I think he’s deserving of the Vezina Trophy,” said Sharks Head Coach Ron Wilson of the award given to the NHL’s top netminder. “He’s been the best goalie this year, and I think a night like tonight shows why.”
The Sharks needed such a performance to overcome the strong play of counterpart Miikka Kiprusoff, who turned away 43 shots, and faced an astounding 27 in the second period alone.
Kiprusoff flopped on his back to stop one early try, ventured far up the ice with a belly flop between the circles to stop a potential Mike Grier breakaway, and did the splits to stymie Patrick Marleau
“He’s a great competitor,” Nabokov said of his former Sharks’ teammate. “They’re lucky to have him. But it doesn’t really matter who’s across the ice. I have to make saves in order to win. It’s nothing personal.”
Used to his consistently top-level play, his teammates were effusive nonetheless.
“He’s so tough mentally,” Joe Pavelski
said. “He kept us in the game.”
“Nabby stepped up to the challenge,” Marc-Eduard Vlasic said. “He didn’t face many shots, but he made the saves at the right times.”
“He’s unbelievable and he showed it again tonight,” Torrey Mitchell
said. “He shouldn’t have to make saves like that, but it’s not surprising when he does.”
Until the Sharks scored two second-period goals to take control, Nabokov’s early saves were huge, proving to be pivotal in preventing Calgary from seizing the momentum as the Flames did in a 3-2 victory in Game 1 on Wednesday night.
“It was a little bit of desperation and a little bit of luck,” Wilson said. “He saved our bacon a couple of times and saved a couple of teammates that missed assignments in a big-time way.”
Nabokov did not get caught up in the excitement. Though he admitted the Game 1 loss was “devastating,” Nabokov said he returned home after the loss and immediately went to sleep. No tossing and turning or replaying the torment in his head.
“Usually, I’m up until 3 or 4 o’clock, at least,” he said.
Nabokov was equally cool on Thursday, as he earned his seventh shutout of the season, keeping his focus on the task at hand.
“It doesn’t matter if it was a shutout,” he said. “We needed a win.”
Wilson actually enjoys watching both netminders in the series.
“It’s fun to watch both goalies work,” said Wilson. “I’m sure Warren Strelow has a big smile upstairs watching this exhibition.”
When the game was till in doubt at 1-0 and the Sharks struggling while up a man for more than two minutes, Torrey Mitchell
stuck his nose in the dirty area around the crease to provide some insurance. It also marked the first playoff goal for the University of Vermont product.
“It was nice to get it,” said Mitchell.
The goal was big, but Mitchell gave a big lift to his team when, as the smallest Sharks player, he crashed into Calgary’s Dion Phaneuf and separated him from the puck on a play that eventually drew a penalty.
“He’s been that guy all year,” said Rivet. “He’s small, but he’s extremely strong on his skates.”
“We need everyone to finish checks like that,” said Douglas Murray
. “It can’t be one guy hitting.”
Mitchell new his target when they went into the corner.
“You want to hit them whenever they get the puck,” said Mitchell of the Calgary blueliners. “You know he (Phaneuf) is going to finish his check when you get the puck.”
Mitchell may be an NHL rookie, but he is a big part of the Sharks.
“He’s a rookie, but he hasn’t played like one,” said Murray.
The Sharks were very confident that a strong game would even the series, but they were still relieved to get the actual result.
“It’s nice to get on the board,” said Thornton.
For the second straight game, Murray laid his big body on Flames players.
“Anyone I can get, I’ll go after,” said Murray.
The whole team stepped up on Thursday night as the Sharks out hit Calgary 16-11 in the opening period.
“That’s what we have to do,” said Craig Rivet. “We want to play that style. We had the legs going and were physical.”
“The bigger, physical guys were more involved in hitting,” said Wilson. “Grier, Rissmiller, Clowe, Murray and in particular McLaren.”
LET’S PLAY 3
After back-to-back games to open the series, the Sharks will have to wait three days for next Sunday night’s battle.
“I can’t wait to play the next game,” said Rivet.
San Jose promised more traffic in front of Kiprusoff and that was a key to Mitchell’s goal and to a Campbell shot that rang off the post.
“Our goal tonight was to create more traffic and we did a better job,” said Wilson.
San Jose faced four Calgary power plays and shut the door on each one.
“Our penalty kill did a great job denying them,” said Wilson. “We probably had as many scoring chances on our penalty kill as they did on the power play (in the third period).”
The Sharks will visit Calgary for Game 3 on Sunday night at 7 p.m. and the game will be available on CSN Bay Area, 98.5 KFOX and www.sjsharks.com.