The Sharks are preparing for what will surely be one of their toughest tests of the season on Sunday when they travel to Nashville to take on the Predators in Game 5 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals. On the brink of elimination, there’s no doubt the Preds will be looking for some revenge, as they have dropped the last three contests to Team Teal and are dangerously close to finding themselves home for the rest of the summer.
It will be no small task though for the Sharks. As fans witnessed Thursday night in the Sharks Game 4 victory over the Predators, Nashville is a team that can take full advantage of you if they catch you sleeping. This was very evident in the third period of the game. After Patrick Marleau
gave the Sharks a 5-2 lead with his third goal of the game, the Sharks put it in cruise control, so to speak, nearly costing them the game after the Predators scored two quick goals with under six minutes left.
“We realize that the toughest game to win is the clincher,” said Joe Thornton
, who had two helpers Thursday night. “They played well in the third period of game four and they play real well at home. It’s going to be a tough test for us, but we’re up for it.”
It’s inevitable that Nashville will come out looking to score first, but the Sharks aren’t going to sit back and let them dictate the game. They’d like to keep playing like they have been, and if possible, be the first ones to light the lamp.
“In a perfect world I think we’d like to score the first goal,” added Thornton. “We obviously need to play well on special teams and defensively. Those three things are big keys for us.”
“I think the first 10 minutes should tell a lot about how the game is going to go,” said Vesa Toskala, who improved his playoff record to 3-1 Thursday. “I bet they’re going to come at us pretty hard. They’re desperate, so we just have to play our game and stay out of the box.”
The Sharks had been doing a good job in the last game of staying out of the box, but it seemed like the excitement of the Marleau hat-trick, coupled with the notion that a three goal lead would be safe, enabled Nashville to crawl back into the game. That is something that Sharks bench boss Ron Wilson does not want to see moving forward.
“It’s going to be the most difficult game we’ve had probably all season,” said Wilson. “We’ve played a lot of desperate teams though and we’ve responded well. Obviously the stakes are different now and we understand that. We just have to keep our poise and stay out of the penalty box. In the third period we’ve been taking too many penalties and we’ve taken our foot off the gas. We have to hammer it home all the way through.”
Rookie center Marcel Goc, who played well on a fourth line that was stirring up all kinds of trouble Thursday night, agrees with the coach, in that the Sharks need to remain focused for the full 60 minutes.
“I think we saw last game what will happen if we take our foot off the gas a little bit,” said Goc. “They’re always dangerous. If we slow down even a little bit they’re going to come at us harder and that’s what they did in the third period the other night. We can’t allow them to do that. We have to match their pressure and put even more on them. We have to play our game by getting the puck in deep and doing what we do best.”
With a chance to end the series in a relatively quick fashion, the Sharks will be chomping at the bit to get the victory and get out of Nashville to prepare for the second round. It goes without saying, however, that the Predators will do everything in their power to extend the series to another game and head back to San Jose for Game 6 on Tuesday.
“We have an inkling of what they’re trying to do and we have to counter with our own adjustments,” said Wilson. “We certainly understand that they’re going to be a desperate team, probably using desperate measures to stay alive. You never want to be eliminated on your own ice.”
Perhaps the most important reason why you don’t want to sit back and let plays happen is the fact that if Nashville manages to squeak out a win Sunday night, it would shift momentum a bit to their side and give them a chance to get back into the series.
“Every game in the playoffs has some pressure in it,” added Goc. “You can’t give them a chance to get back in the series. Of course it’d be best if we win this next game. We can’t take it easy. We have to play like it’s the seventh game.”
In what is sure to be the most exciting game of the series yet, San Jose looks to squash Nashville’s hopes of getting back into the series. There’s no doubt it should be a highly contested duel.
Game 4 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals will be played Sunday night at 5:30 p.m. in Nashville. The game can be seen on FSN Bay Area and heard on the Sharks Radio Network or sjsharks.com.