There’s one scenario that will likely play out in Game Two of San Jose’s Western Conference Quarterfinal series with Nashville: Scott Hartnell playing and Jonathan Cheechoo not playing.
Sharks fans already have the cheap shot by Hartnell ingrained in their heads, but for those who missed it, Hartnell put a knee-on-knee hit on the Sharks leading goal scorer and, on the same play, hit Cheechoo in the face with his elbow, causing him to lose a tooth.
“He got a tooth knocked out, a cut over the eye and hit knee-to-knee,” said Coach Ron Wilson.
"I thought it was a little cheap," said Cheechoo. "The guy stuck his knee out. If he wouldn't have moved his leg, he would have missed me by five to six inches."
And did the missing front tooth come from the elbow or when Cheechoo's head hit the ice.
"He got me with the elbow," said Cheechoo. "If you're going to hit me late, at least hit me (clean)."
Nashville’s side of the story is that it may not even have been a penalty, which flies in the face of the referees game misconduct call.
“They would miss a 37-goal scorer if you took one out of their lineup,” said Wilson. “They would be belly-aching if (Peter) Forsberg or (Paul) Kariya was laid on the ice and getting dental work.”
The NHL has decided there will be no subsequent penalty for Hartnell.
“I think it’s up to the League,” said Mike Grier. “It was a blow to the head and we’re supposed to be trying to clean up blows to the head.”
After today’s practice, Wilson said Cheechoo’s likely replacement will be rookie forward Joe Pavelski
“He’s been a very good player all year when he’s gotten the opportunity,” said Grier.
Pavelski missed 10 games from Feb. 1 until March 15 with a foot injury. That problem also forced him out of the lineup for a few games late in the season and for the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, as Pavelski knows, you can’t be injured in the postseason.
“It’s close,” said Pavelski about how close his foot is to being totally well. “There are so many players around the League with something. In the playoffs, you’re 100 percent.”
“He’s healthy and excited,” said Grier. “It’s not that big of a drop off. ‘Cheech’ is obviously on our top goal scoring line and he’s great in the room. He doesn’t complain about anything and just goes about doing his job.”
So, how will Wilson juggle the lines? Will Grier take Cheechoo’s spot on the line with Joe Thornton
and Milan Michalek as he did last night and occasionally during the season? Or will Pavelski take Cheechoo’s place?
“I have to figure that out,” said Wilson. “I don’t think it will screw things up if lines are changed around.”
While he isn’t going in under ideal circumstances, Pavelski may have learned a bit by watching Game One from the press box.
“It was probably good he saw a game,” said Wilson. “It certainly isn’t college hockey. It’s intense and violent and much quicker than the regular season.”
Pavelski is excited to get a chance in Game Two.
“I got to watch last night and took a lot out of the game,” said Pavelski. “The regular season kind of prepared me with the close games. I’m excited to get out there.”
As for Cheechoo’s return?
“We’ll check and hope he will be able to come back these playoffs,” said Wilson.
"I think so," said Cheechoo of skating against Nashville. "We'll see what the MRI says."
It was rumored that Cheechoo wanted to return for the contest.
"You always want to play if you can," said Cheechoo. "But we didn't know what was wrong."
The penalty killing unit was 100 percent successful in Game One, stopping all five Nashville power plays – including three in the third period.
“I think we did a decent job,” said Grier. “We kept them to the outside and blocked shots, but we still have to do a better job of clearing the puck.”
Grier, along with fellow forward penalty killing specialists Curtis Brown, Marcel Goc and Patrick Rissmiller, know that they and their blueliners (Scott Hannan, Kyle McLaren, Marc-Edouard Vlasic
and Craig Rivet) can’t be perfect the entire series.
“They’ve got too much talent and skill to shut them down the whole time,” said Grier. “We have to limit their opportunities.”
The best penalty kill is one that isn’t called upon.
“Just staying out of the box is big,” said Brown. “You don’t know how big a part it is until you look back and realize how important penalty killing is.”
FRIENDS AND ENEMIES
Vlasic had a few moments to catch up with junior teammate and friend, Nashville rookie Alexander Radulov, who scored twice last night.
“We just spoke for a couple of minutes,” said Vlasic of his conversation with his buddy from the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
Vlasic wasn’t surprised at Radulov’s second goal, which came late in the third period. Radulov flew down the right wing, chipped the puck by Kyle McLaren and snapped a shot from the low right circle into the left corner of the net.
“I saw a lot of that last year,” said Vlasic.
“He knows if he comes down my side,” Vlasic added, “nothing is going to happen.”
Being on opposite ends of the ice is no problem for the two.
“It was nice to win it (Memorial Cup) last year with him,” said Vlasic. “It’s even better to have games against each other.”
Their junior coach, Hockey Hall of Famer Patrick Roy, will be cheering for both in the next few days.
“He’ll be in San Jose for both games,” said Vlasic, who will likely be coming up with a pair of tickets. “I get two at home, so I’ll be giving them to him.”
PLENTY OF FRIENDS
Patrick Rissmiller’s heroics in scoring the Game One game-winner were noticed by friends and family watching late back in his native Massachusetts. In fact, many of them called and sent text messages.
The timing couldn’t have been better for Rissmiller’s goal. His turnover in the last minute of regulation led to J.P. Dumont’s game-tying score.
“It’s nice,” said Rissmiller. “They were worried for me and they’re all happy now.”
He had friends in the locker room, regardless of the outcome.
“It’s great to see that happen,” said Brown. “It doesn’t happen enough where a guy is down and gets a chance to be a hero. If we could have picked one guy to score, it would have been him.”
TIGHT AFTER THE FIRST OT
Wilson could have tried to bench Rissmiller for the third period gaffe, but instead chose to put him back in.
“It was probably a result of what happened to me as a player,” said Wilson. “None of us wants to be fired for one mistake.”
Wilson noted that some Sharks were a bit tight in the first overtime.
“I gave it to some of them after the first overtime,” said Wilson. “I told them we’re not playing not to lose.”
Wilson also continued using all players in the extra stanzas instead of trying to ride his top guns.
“(Columbus Coach) Ken Hitchcock said you have to use your whole bench in overtime,” said Wilson. “(The guys who didn’t play as much) are rested.”
GOING FOR 2
Most visiting clubs start a series hoping to split the first two contests. The Sharks know they can get a strong hold on the series with a second consecutive road victory.
“We got the first win on the road and it would be nice to get the other win tomorrow,” said Captain Patrick Marleau
“We’ll be greedy and look to go two-up,” said Wilson. “Tomorrow is the most important game.”
EASIER THE SECOND TIME
Vlasic may have been playing in his first playoff contest and Matt Carle was in the exact same situation last year.
“I was a little more at ease this year,” said Carle. “I was nervous (in 2006). I had only played 12 NHL games at that point. After 70-plus games, I wasn’t as nervous this year and approached it as any other game.”
Game Two will take place Friday at 5 p.m. PST and will be carried on FSN Bay Area, 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com.