The San Jose Sharks continued their playoff pursuit with a battle against the visiting Phoenix Coyotes Thursday night at HP Pavilion. Four unanswered goals lifted the Coyotes past the Sharks as they defeated them by the final score of 5-2.
Evgeni Nabokov started in net for San Jose against Curtis Joseph. With Alyn McCauley missing the game with a lower body injury, Ron Wilson opted to dress Matt Carle, giving the blueliner his first game in HP Pavilion. McCauley’s injury snapped his 169 games played streak (6th on the Sharks all-time list).
Five minutes into the game, Nabokov faced his first big challenge. Oleg Saprykin carried the blueline on a two-on-one rush. He held the puck the entire time, but Nabokov held firm and slowly closed any shooting angle.
Hard work on the other end by Ville Nieminen caused Mike Comrie to trip him up from behind the net and Team Teal took the game’s first power play. With 12:10 left in the first, the second power play unit skated on and Carle had his first shift on home ice. Phoenix held the Sharks off the board and the contest remained even.
San Jose had a three-on-two rush 12 minutes into the contest, but Jonathan Cheechoo couldn’t quite reach Joseph’s rebound of Nils Ekman’s shot. San Jose kept the pressure up and took the 1-0 lead. Steve Bernier fed Michalek in the left slot and with his brother, Zbynek, on him, wristed the shot at Joseph and it trickled behind him and across the goal line.
Phoenix did not wait long to respond. A perfectly executed give-and-go by Oleg Kvasha and Mike Johnson gave Kvasha an unobstructed shot form the shot and his one-timer beat Nabokov to even the game at one.
Lady Byng candidate Patrick Marleau sparked the go-ahead goal a few shifts later. He made a deft puck handling move at the blueline to keep a rush going and quickly found Michalek on the right wing. With the puck barely on his stick, he knocked it across the slot to Bernier who tapped in the easy goal.
Phoenix looked to respond in another matter on the ensuing faceoff when Josh Gratton challenged Scott Thornton. It was a true battle of heavyweights as Thornton landed two huge rights in one the best bouts of the season. They were both given five minute majors for fighting.
San Jose would take their one-goal lead to the dressing room.
When the Sharks returned to the ice, they continued the pressure displayed late in the first. First the Joe Thornton line forced several shots, then the Marleau line’s work drew the Sharks second power play. San Jose worked the puck efficiently on the advantage, but could not add to the lead.
Phoenix drew a power play midway through the game, but the best scoring chances went to San Jose. First Michalek got behind the defense and skated in alone on Joseph. His quick wrist shot went just wide. Then as the advantage expired, Joe Thornton looked to be off to the races, but the extended pass just missed.
When San Jose returned to their own advantage, Dennis Seidenberg tripped up Cheechoo on a breakaway and the Sharks had a brief five-on-three. It was brief because Ekman was called for interference and the clubs would skate more than a minute four-on-four. During this set, Phoenix tied the game. A Zbynek Michalek shot rang off the near post and landed in the crease behind Nabokov. Steven Reinprecht tapped in the rebound to make it two apiece.
A Sharks turnover late in the second provided Phoenix with a prime scoring chance. Mike Johnson skated in at full speed. Nabokov made the initial save, but the rebound came to Johnson for a second chance. Once again Nabokov did his job and the game remained even after 40 minutes, although the Coyotes would carry 1:40 of power play time into the final stanza.
That would prove trouble in the third. An up-ice pass to Shane Doan at the blueline put the Coyotes on a two-on-one. Doan’s pass found Reinprecht who made a nice move on Nabokov to provide Phoenix a 3-2 lead.
San Jose had a chance to pull even on the power play with 13 minutes remaining in the game and while the puck was in the offensive zone more than two minutes, it never crossed the goal line.
Phoenix would make the lead two with nine left in the third when a Mike Johnson slapshot went to the top corner on Nabokov. San Jose was in an uphill battle for two valuable playoff points.
With 1:38 left on the clock Nabokov skated to the bench in favor of an extra attacker. Bernier was given a perfect pass from behind the net, but his one time attempt sailed wide with just under a minute left. With 31 seconds remaining, Mike Comrie notched an empty net goal, finishing off the Sharks by the final score of 5-2.