After taking the day off on Thursday to travel to Nashville, the Sharks returned to the ice on Friday at the team’s morning skate.
The Sharks arrived in the Music City with a commanding 3-1 series lead, one win away from bouncing the Predators out of the playoffs for the second consecutive season. But the players and coaches are aware of the amount of work that remains and were focused following the brief practice.
“It’s a playoff game so the stakes are obviously pretty high,” said rookie Joe Pavelski
. “If you get caught up in it, that’s when you can get off your game. We need to do what we’re good at. When we do, we’re a tough team to beat. They’re going to come out hard.”
Pavelski will be playing in just his third career NHL playoff game on Friday. But the crafty forward looked like a seasoned veteran in San Jose’s 3-2 victory in Game Four, netting a huge goal just 66 seconds into the second period. His goal, a 45-foot slap shot with pin-point accuracy, gave the Sharks an important two-goal lead in a closely contested game.
Centering a line that boasts All-Stars Patrick Marleau
and Bill Guerin on his wings, Pavelski was quick to attribute part of his success to his linemates.
“It’s pretty cool to be on a line with guys like that,” said Pavelski. “They open up a lot of space for our line. [Nashville’s] defense has to key on them a lot more.”
Although Pavelski was not in the lineup in Games One or Two, he remained attentive to both games and focused on his approach and mental preparation.
“You can learn a lot from how they [Marleau and Guerin] prepare and how they play,” he said. “The first two games, I sat out at watched. I was trying to figure out how they prepared for games, how they played and what it was like. I wanted to be ready if I got my chance.”
“I watched their forecheck, and their attention to detail. This time of year, a lot of pucks are going deep and you have to be the first one in on the forecheck.”
Marleau was quick to defer some of the credit back to Pavelski.
“He’s strong on the puck and he’s good at pick-pocketing guys,” said the Sharks Captain. “When you do that, you get a lot of room on the ice. He’s able to make plays after he does that.”
Marleau, who vacated his role as a center and moved to left wing so Pavelski could remain at his natural position, also spoke briefly his slightly different role while playing on the wing.
“It’s more of a shooter’s position,” he said. “I try to get open and find those spots for Pav to get me the puck.”
continues to turn heads. The standout rookie defenseman played huge minutes, leading the League in ice time among rookies while appearing in all but one of the Sharks regular season contests.
But the talented blueliner hasn’t stopped there. Vlasic is off to an equally impressive start to these Stanley Cup Playoffs, averaging 25:16 of ice time per game through the first four games. Only Craig Rivet has seen more ice time than the 20-year-old defenseman.
Vlasic has been called on to defend against Nashville’s most potent forwards and his regular shifts against Peter Forsberg and Alexander Radulov have transformed into one-on-one battles down low in the Sharks zone. Vlasic, who was teammates with Radulov for two seasons in Quebec Major Juniors, neutralized the talented winger throughout Game Four and will look to do the same tonight.
“I know what he likes to do,” said Vlasic of Radulov. “He tries to beat defensemen one-on-one and he has the ability to do that. I played with him for two years, so I know what he does. He goes outside/inside. You have to look at the body with him, not the puck or else he’ll blow right by you. Even though I’ve known him for two years, you have to look at the body. He can still make you look silly out there.”
Vlasic and his defensive Partner Scott Hannan kept Radulov off the scoresheet for the first time in the series on Friday night and also held Forsberg without a shot or a point.
“[Forsberg] is a great player down low,” said Vlasic. “He’s hard to handle. When he has the puck in the corner and he sees the defensemen, he’ll counter hit or play his body. He’s pretty hard to get off the puck. You got to make sure you have great sticks against him and make sure he doesn’t the puck down low. But if it happens, you have to make sure you have good body position. If you go in the corner with him and try to play the man, I don’t think you’ll come out on top.”
WILSON SOUNDS OFF
While numerous comparisons can be drawn between this year’s series against the Predators and last year’s series, Sharks Head Coach Ron Wilson doesn’t think it has any bearing on how the game is played on the ice.
“At the end of the night, once the puck drops, nobody remembers anything that happened in the past. You just go out and play the game,” he said. “This isn’t like the regular season. You play the best on the best every single shift. People defend differently. There’s a lot more concentration. And that happens.
“If we win tonight it’s not going to be because of a couple of guys that didn’t produce for Nashville. If we lose tonight, it’s not going to be about a couple of our guys who haven’t produced much this series. It’s just two great teams battling on the ice.”
Game Five is set for Friday night at 6:00 PM (Pacific) at Nashville Arena. The game will be broadcast on FSN Bay Area in high-definition and can also be heard on KFOX 98.5 FM, Sharks Radio Network Affiliates and SJSHARKS.com.