Patrick Rissmiller was understandingly upset and he broke his stick on the ice. It was his failed clearing effort as regulation closed down that allowed Nashville to tie the contest in the game’s waning moments.
“I had a couple of chances to clear the puck,” said Rissmiller. “The guys rallied around me. I’ll take that on my shoulders. I had two great chances to clear it and I didn’t.”
Then, 32 minutes of hockey later, he had the best moment of his career. Playing his first shift of the second overtime, the Belmont, Mass., native raced with Captain Patrick Marleau
to the blueline. Marleau controlled the puck and Rissmiller headed straight for the net.
“I knew he was either going to shoot or pass it,” said Rissmiller.
And pass is what Marleau did, threading the needle past a defender to find Rissmiller quickly closing on Tomas Vokoun.
The shot found the back of the net and Rissmiller was the Stanley Cup Playoff’s first overtime hero.
“It feels good,” said Rissmiller. “The net was coming fast, but it was a great pass. As soon as I got it, I looked to shoot. I felt fortunate to score.”
“Riss wore the goat horns, persevered and managed to make up for it,” said Head Coach Ron Wilson.
Almost halfway through regulation, the Sharks may have suffered something worse than an in-game defeat. They had to watch leading goal scorer Jonathan Cheechoo be helped from the ice after a vicious hit by Scott Hartnell.
On the play, Cheechoo was passing the puck and appeared to be out of harm’s way. Then Hartnell reached out with his knee and elbow, sending Cheechoo to the ice. Hartnell was immediately kicked out of the game.
Cheechoo’s teammates were obviously more than a little upset and would not be surprised to see something additional added to Hartnell’s penalty.
“That is a dangerous play,” said Ron Wilson. “It was a two-part attack. The elbow (to the head) knocked a tooth out and then it was knee-on-knee. If it’s not a dirty hit, I’m not sure what is. When you put the elbow (to the) face and (go) knee-to-knee, that is intent to injure – with an injury sustained.”
“We’ll have to wait and see what the league says, but there is no place for that in hockey,” said Kyle McLaren.
“It was a dirty hit and by a dirty player,” said Rissmiller. “I imagine they would (look at it).”
San Jose may be forced to go without Cheechoo’s services, depending on medical tests.
“We’re not sure,” said Wilson. “We’ll get the diagnosis and MRI tomorrow.”
If they are without the Cheechoo train, San Jose will adjust as all great teams do.
“He’s a big part of our team, but we’ll find a guy to fill the role and do the job,” said McLaren. “It’s tough to miss 37 goals, but we’ll wait and see. We’re going to see more people step up.”
The Sharks do have offensive forward Joe Pavelski
ready to jump into the lineup if necessary. He was a regular this season until an injury forced him out for the playoff drive.
With Cheechoo out so early in the contest, the Sharks were forced to juggle lines and eight players skated in excess of 25 minutes.
“We’ve talked about character all year,” said Wilson.
NABOKOV SHINES ON DIFFICULT DAY
The entire Sharks organization mourned the loss of Goaltending Coach Warren Strelow on Wednesday, but it was starting netminder Evgeni Nabokov who had the most difficult time as he was as close to Strelow as anyone. Nabokov played a strong game and kept the emotions at arms distance in sending Strelow a victory.
“I didn’t have much of a chance to think about him during the game,” said Nabokov. “Before the game, yes. I thought before what he would say. I think up above he is smiling and give me one of those (looks).”
And what Strelow advice served him well in the series opener?
“He always said the past doesn’t matter and that is how you have to play overtime,” said Nabokov.
To Nabokov, he is now missing more than just a goalie coach.
“He knew my wife and my daughter Emma,” said Nabokov. “Everyone knew him so well. We spent a lot of time with him when he was healthy (in Kentucky and San Jose).
Despite allowing four goals, Nabokov was in control on almost every shot.
“That’s what it comes down to in the playoffs,” said Rivet. “You have to have good goaltending and he’s been great since I got here.”
And Nabokov had to be at his best when Jordin Tootoo came in on an overtime breakaway.
“He made the big save and kept us in the game,” said Marleau.
“He made a few more saves he never saw, but he was in great position,” said Wilson.
NOT STAYING DOWN
The Sharks were obviously a bit deflated after surrendering such a late tying tally, but they knew it would not be an easy series and that it would take 60 minutes or more for each victory.
“The playoffs are going to be up and down, not always perfect,” said Marc-Edouard Vlasic
. It took a while tonight.”
“That’s the playoffs,” said McLaren. “We knew they wouldn’t quit. Every single game is going to go that way. We capitalized on the last chance.”
The Sharks may have been a bit guilty of sitting back on the late two-goal lead.
“I think we (let off the gas),” said Marleau. “They started to come at us and they’ll come at us again. We have to be ready.”
“When you have a 4-2 lead with seven minutes left, it shouldn’t go that far,” said Nabokov. “We have to be more disciplined.”
2 FROM THE BLUELINE
Team Teal scored five times, but the defense came up with two of the first three tallies. The opening goal came off the stick of Matt Carle. He may have gotten a fortuitous bounce off a Nashville defender, but that was forced because of his creativity. Then Rivet blasted home the game’s only power play tally.
“It’s a cliché, but we’re just trying to get pucks through and the guys were out front,” said Rivet.
Vlasic played in his first NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs game and logged a team-high 35.24 of ice time.
“It feels great,” said Vlasic. “It is nice to get the first one out of the way. It took a while.”
It was noticeable in the second overtime that Vlasic was skating with the legs of a 20-year-old.
“Personally, I thought Vlasic was the best player on the ice and he’s only 20-years-old,” said Wilson. “He never bent when they tried to single him out physically. This is when boys grow to men.”
Team Teal managed to take Game 1, unlike last year when they fell in a one-goal contest.
“Last year they won Game 1 with power play goals,” said Wilson. “We learned a lot about ourselves and what Nashville is trying to do.”
Wilson noted one dramatic difference from last year to this year.
“Forsberg was dominating when he was on the ice,” said Wilson. “But you can also see how good Thornton is and he came out with a three assists if they (make a late scoring change).
San Jose had both big centermen flying as Marleau had two helpers in the victory.
“Patty gets lost in everybody watching Joe, but he brings speed and elegance to our team,” said Wilson. “It’s like double-trouble. Few people have those kinds of weapons.”
Alexander Radulov scored twice for the Predators and was as valuable to Nashville as his junior teammate was for San Jose. Radulov and Vlasic teamed to win a Memorial Cup just last season.
“He had a lot of jump tonight and I thought it was one of the best games he’s played,” said Shea Weber.
“Radulov, I thought he was outstanding,” said Nashville Coach Barry Trotz. “First playoff game, obviously the great move on the one goal – that was classic. He was real good, he was dangerous, he had numerous scoring chances, he could have won it in overtime.”
OUT OF THE BOX
Nashville surrendered just one power play tally, but without that, they may have won in regulation.
“I think that’s one of the parts of the game we need to clean up,” said Shea Weber. “They have a good power play and we want to stay out of the box as much as possible.”
San Jose will play Game Two with Nashville in a 5 p.m. contest that will be available on FSN Bay Area, 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com.