How good was Evgeni Nabokov in the Sharks series clinching game against Detroit? Try 33 saves in a 2-1 Sharks win Saturday night at HP Pavilion that propelled them to the Western Conference Final.
“He played great,” Sharks center Joe Thornton
said. “We’re going to go as far as Nabby takes us. He’s been the backbone of this team all year long. He was huge in the second period. We kind of gave him an easy first, but huge in the (second and) third. We knew he’d bounce back. He’s playing great right now.”
Nabokov was at his best late in the second period when the Wings went on their third power play of the night.
The Wings sent a flurry of shots at Nabokov, more than a few from point blank range, and he rejected them all. Massive Tomas Holmstrom tried once and later again. Nothing. Henrik Zetterberg sent a shot from the right circle Nabokov’s way. Rejected.
“We had some penalty trouble,” Sharks winger Scott Nichol said. “He was there. He’s been there all year. That’s why our penalty kill has been great all year because he’s our best penalty killer. That’s what you want from a goalie, step up and make the saves. He made some real key saves tonight, got us a win.”
The entire second period must have seemed like one continuous Red Wings shot on goal to Nabokov. After facing just six shots in the first period – the Sharks launched 15 -- Nabokov faced 14 in the second when the Sharks were outshot 14-3.
“I don’t know if it’s redemption,” Nabokov said, referring to the entire Sharks team. “Playoffs are such an interesting tournament. You play a good game, you have to forget it and move on. You play a bad game, you have to do the same thing because the next game is the most important game.
“With these guys, if we go back to Detroit, who knows what’s going to happen. We wanted to finish at home and we did. I’m glad that we were able to finish it at home. The guys battled, showed the character and did a good job.”
When the puck dropped Saturday night at the Shark Tank, it quickly became apparent that Nabokov and the Sharks weren’t in for a repeat of Game 4. For starters, the entire Sharks team was energized, hustling and hitting anything in red that moved.
Johan Franzen, who scored four goals in Game 4, wasn’t allowed the freedom to roam wherever he pleased, and Nabokov faced only six shots in a scoreless period.
The Red Wings finally broke through at 2:40 of the second period when Brian Rafalski – with a screen in front of the net – blasted a shot that may have been tipped from near the blue line that beat Nabokov, giving Detroit a 1-0 lead.
No problem. Nabokov simply dug in and shut them out the rest of the way.
Nabokov was nails in the third period, making a series of solid saves as the Sharks built a 2-1 and lead then held on.
There was a glove save of Valtteri Filppula’s wrist shot from the left circle. There was a rejection of Pavel Datsyuk’s bullet from the high slot. There were pad saves of Henrik Zetterberg’s shot from the slot, Dan Cleary’s blast from the left circle and Zetterberg’s laser from the right circle.
And on and on and on.
Nabokov gave credit to his teammates, who were quick to pounce on rebounds and send them away, something that didn’t happen often in Game 4.
“I think we were quicker to the second pucks,” Nabokov said. “The defense would clear the pucks. The coached talked about it . We have to get quicker to the pucks. We battled (on the boards). I think we did pretty much everything today.”
Sharks Head Coach Todd McLellan said that after Game 4, some critics drew a parallel to Nabokov’s nightmare against Canada in the Olympics.
“Immediately after that 7-1 loss, everybody tied that to the Olympics,” McLellan said. “That had absolutely nothing to do with the Olympics. I felt really good when I saw Nabby at the pre-game skate this morning. He was focused and determined.
“He played extremely well. He made some huge saves, especially on the penalty kill. “
Nichol had no doubts.
“We’re a tight unit here,” Nichol said. “We knew exactly what he was going to bring to this table. He’s done that for us all year long. A tough couple goals in Detroit, but you know what, he regrouped. It’s a new day. Nabby was rock solid for us like he has been all year.”