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Sharks Fall In First Game Of Series To Predators, 4-3

by Staff Writer / San Jose Sharks

All the talk of goalie matchups, injuries and defensive pairings became irrelevant Friday night as the Sharks and Predators began the 2006 Playoffs presented by Intersil. Chris Mason answered all doubters, stopping 30 shots in earning his first NHL playoff victory as the Predators defeated the Sharks by the final score of 4-3.

Steve Sullivan skated during warm-ups, indicating that Nashville would see the return of their high-scoring forward from a groin injury. Ron Wilson sent the Thornton line to start the game right with Tom Preissing and Christian Ehrhoff on the blueline.

Within one minute of play, the NHL showed that rules would be enforced as Brendan Witt was called for holding Joe Thornton behind the net. San Jose almost scored on the delayed call, but Jonathan Cheechoo couldn’t quite connect on a pass.

The power play gave Matt Carle his first NHL postseason shift, but the power play was held off as Mason caught a puck in the crease to close out the two minutes.

Just four minutes into the contest, Mark Smith gave San Jose an important opening goal. Carle earned his first postseason helper on the play as Goc fed a wide-open Smith in the high slot. Smith skated in and fired on Mason and the puck was slightly deflected, but it got through him to the back of the net. Goc and Smith, the same duo who closed out the first round against St. Louis in 2004, had started things in 2006.

The Predators looked to even the contest when Christian Ehrhoff was called for interference with 11:30 left in the first and they did exactly that. Ville Nieminen appeared to have a direct line to clear the puck, but Paul Kariya reached out with is stick to hold him up and the play stayed in the zone. Mike Sillinger came crashing out front and tipped the Kimmo Timonen shot past Toskala.

Nashville would go right back on the power play when Cheechoo was bumped from behind into a Predators defender and called for interference. Nashville again took advantage as this time is was a Martin Erat blast from the right faceoff circle. San Jose had taken the crowd out early, but they upped the volume again with the 2-1 lead.

The next call would go San Jose’s way when Witt took a roughing minor with 7:30 left in the first, but Nashville’s penalty killers were up to the task again.

With 15 seconds remaining in the first, a Sharks goal was overruled by a delayed call, giving Nashville a late advantage and they saw no reason to let the time carry into the second. Kariya set up the third goal of the stanza when he found Shea Weber pinching in. The blueliner then took his time and beat Toskala top shelf for the 3-1 lead.

The first ended with the host Predators carrying all the momentum as Team Teal looked to regroup at the intermission.

Two minutes into the middle period, Alyn McCauley found himself on a breakaway. The Selke finalist from 2004 forced Mason to the ice but went just high with the shot. On the ensuing shift, Joe Thornton found Ekman alone out front, but he misfired and the shot went just wide.

When Milan Michalek was nailed for goaltender interference, Nashville took to their fourth power play and they had a 100 percent success rate to that point. San Jose’s penalty killers got the job done this time and even strength play resumed.

Team Teal made the third time the charm on the power play when Ekman closed the gap to one. While facing the net, he quickly converted a backhand pass to his forehand and wristed a shot on Mason. The Nashville netminder couldn’t handle the low shot and Ekman had pulled San Jose within one and scored his first career playoff goal.

When Nashville skated out on their fifth power play, they controlled the zone for almost two complete minutes, but the puck primarily stayed on the perimeter. When a shot did get in close, Toskala was there with a big save.

Mason had to come up with a nifty save when Scott Thornton found a rebound out front and instead of turning it to his forehand, blindly moved the puck backhanded to the net. A scrum followed the play and Nieminen and Scott Walker were sent to the box, opening up two full minutes of four-on-four play.

Patrick Marleau created a three-on-one rush during the open ice, but Carle couldn’t put the puck behind Mason. Marleau led a second rush when five-on-five play returned, but the shot was stopped again by Mason.

San Jose had closed the gap to 3-2 after 40 minutes and had begun putting strong pressure around the Nashville net.
It was just one minute into the third before pressure was put on Toskala. Who else but Kariya to set up a perfect pass to Legwand in tight on Toskala, but Legwand’s five-hole attempt was swallowed up by the netminder.
The Sharks wouldn’t be out-done, however, as the Thornton line caused trouble deep in Nashville’s zone. No goal was recorded despite several shots, but a penalty sent the Sharks back on the power play.
Michalek had a golden opportunity early in the advantage when he deked past Mason. The rookie had Mason beat, but the netminder made an unbelievable leg pad save to preserve Nashville’s one goal lead.
Things really picked up once play returned to five-a-side as Toskala matched Mason and made a spectacular stick save when a Nashville forward had him beat and down on the ice.
Nieminen was sent back to the box for the third time for high-sticking six minutes into the third, but a minute into the advantage, Danny Markov was whistled for tripping Cheechoo as the NHL’s leading goal scorer was doing a great job killing off the penalty.
The Sharks couldn’t capitalize on their brief one minute power play as they remained one goal behind midway though the third.
Off a faceoff play in Nashville’s zone, Nieminen controlled the puck and fed Scott Thornton who was camped out right in front tipped in the puck past Mason, tying the game at three.
Following the goal, the Sharks were called for a bench minor after having too many men on the ice. It took less than 40 seconds for Kariya to work his magic again when he fired a one-time pass from the point that hit off Adam Hall and deflected in. The Predators regained the lead with 7:47 left in the contest.
The Sharks went back on the power play when Timonen was penalized for holding. Mason spoiled yet another great scoring chance when he stoned Ekman right out front as the entire two-minutes passed without the lamp being lit.
With 49 seconds left Toskala left the net in favor of the extra attacker. The Sharks managed to put good pressure on Mason virtually the entire final 49 seconds, but without ever getting a solid shot on goal, as the Predators skated off with the 4-3 victory, taking the 1-0 lead in the series.

Ekman-J. Thornton-Cheechoo
S. Thornton-McCauley-Nieminen


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