Thursday evening San Jose took to the ice for a critical game against the Edmonton Oilers, the team holding the coveted eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot. Two goals by rookie Steve Bernier paced the Sharks, as they defeated the Oilers by the final score of 5-2.
Ville Nieminen made his Sharks debut and Scott Parker returned to the lineup after an extended absence. In addition, Nolan Schaefer backed up Vesa Toskala as Evgeni Nabokov rested an injury he sustained in the Anaheim contest.
Toskala was tested in the games first few minutes when he faced a wide-open shot from the slot and then had to reach back to stop another open shot from the right side.
San Jose showed they were coming to play hard early as they pounded Oilers players with two thunderous hits, including one by Kyle McLaren.
San Jose earned the game’s first man-advantage when Patrick Marleau
created a two-on-one with Grant Stevenson. They could not convert, but that was mainly due to Stevenson being hooked and the ref made the call. Edmonton and newly acquired netminder Dwayne Roloson kept the Sharks at bay on the advantage.
San Jose kept pressure and created two additional odd-man rushes in the opening 12 minutes, but neither could find the back of the net.
A Marleau holding penalty with 7:15 left in the first put Edmonton on their first power play. Team Teal easily handled the shorthanded situation and then put themselves back on the power play moments after Edmonton’s opportunity. Joe Thornton
created a strong opportunity by losing his man on the rush, but the game would remain scoreless for the power plays and for the entire first period.
It took just eight seconds into the second for the action to start, as both Nils Ekman and Chris Pronger received penalties for hooking. The Sharks came out successful and notched the first goal of the night. Christian Ehrhoff made a lead pass on a three-on-two for Milan Michalek. The winger redirected the puck on goal, but it was turned away. However, the rebound remained in front of the crease, and Michalek’s second attempt trickled past Roloson. The Sharks led 1-0.
On the other end, Toskala made a brilliant stop on Georges Laraque who broke in alone. With San Jose already displaying their physical style on the evening, Nieminen gave himself a proper introduction to Sharks fans. As Ryan Smyth was winding up for a slapshot, Nieminen lined him up and sent the rugged winger to the ice with a strong hit.
Edmonton began pressuring the Sharks zone next. Toskala made two strong stops, but a Sharks turnover in the zone near the game’s midway point, gave Jarret Stoll the puck in the high slot. He skated in on Toskala and perfectly placed the puck above Toskala’s shoulder.
San Jose would strike back behind a goal by the captain. Michalek began the play by carrying the puck deep in the zone and then skating behind the net. He then found Bernier near the hash mark for a one-timer. Roloson made the stop, but Bernier retrieved the rebound and found Marleau who tucked it in behind Roloson. San Jose once again led by one.
Then on the next faceoff, Michalek drew a penalty on Stoll and San Jose looked to increase their lead. On the advantage, Bernier looked to nab a goal of his own, but a sprawling Roloson kept the score 2-1.
With less than four minutes left in the second, the guests jumped on a fortunate bounce. The puck came off the glass near the corner and moved toward the slot. The unexpected play saw the puck slide under the skated of Scott Hannan and it was picked up by Raffi Torres who deposited the tying goal behind Toskala.
Both clubs came close to adding a third tally late, but the contest would go to the third tied at 2-2.
Just eleven seconds into the third, San Jose took their third lead. San Jose won the faceoff and as the puck went into the Oilers zone, Cheechoo outworked Jaroslav Spacek for the puck. By the time he came up with it, “Cheech” was on top of Roloson. As the Edmonton netminder played the shot, Cheechoo slid it over to the wide-open Joe Thornton
who tapped it in. The goal pulled San Jose’s big center within two points of the NHL scoring lead.
San Jose would make it 4-2 three minutes later. Bernier carried the puck in on a three-on-one with Hannan and Marleau. His pass was tipped by Dick Tarnstrom, but it went directly to Hannan who put a shot on net. Roloson made the first stop, but the rebound went right to Bernier who tapped in the loose puck. Michalek notched the first assist giving him his first career three-point game. It also marked Bernier’s first career two-point game.
A high sticking penalty to Nils Ekman gave Edmonton a power play opportunity, but it was the Sharks with two scoring opportunities. Roloson did stop Marleau on a breakaway, but only because he was held up and San Jose was on the power play themselves. They could not add to the lead, but they did kill off two valuable minutes.
With four minutes remaining, Team Teal was facing strong pressure from Edmonton, but still had their two-goal lead. In fact they would add to their lead when a strong cycle allowed Marleau to setup Bernier driving hard to the net, giving Bernier his first three-point night and first two-goal game.
The final two minutes ticked off the clock, never seeing any serious Oiler scoring chances on Toskala, and the Sharks skated off with the 5-2 victory.