This was the game the Sharks, and their fans, have been waiting for. Relentless pressure and physical play, plus enduring faith in the system, paid off with a jackpot of five goals Thursday night, putting San Jose in the driver's seat in the quarterfinal series. It marked the first game that wasn’t decided by a single goal or tied through 59 minutes of action.
"The way we have been playing is starting to wear on them," said rookie Dwight Helminen of the Sharks physical play at both ends.
Sharks hockey means lots of shots, from lots of angles, all night long. This has particularly held true in the playoffs.
In the first four games, which the teams split, San Jose put 331 pucks on net, including 179 shots on goal. The theory has been, no goalie can stop every shot in an all-out assault.
Thursday was the payoff for staying the course. After the devastating losses on weird bounces in Game 1 and 3, San Jose’s relentless attack was finally rewarded with a big lead.
Sharks coach Todd McLellan said "We put those demons behind us in game four. I don't hear anybody in our locker room talk about it, and that's due to our leadership. I think the leaders in the locker room kept everything calm, and we came out and established our game right off the bat in Denver, and again here tonight. We didn't just put our toe in the water, we jumped in the lake and went after them."
San Jose moved Torrey Mitchell
up to the first line, primarily because Dany Heatley wasn't quite ready yet to play the minutes required of the top line. Heatley played on the third line, and as their coach noted, all four lines contributed on his night, which frequently isn't the case in a blowout win.
The Sharks threw 25 pucks on net in the first period, with about half, 12, making it through to directly challenge Craig Anderson. For the night, they were able to take 37 total shots and put 68 pucks on net.
Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov had an interesting take on the team's play within the system, suggesting that the teams best defense this evening was the offense, "I think that our system is all about puck possession; whoever has the puck more will put it in the net more."
It paid off about halfway through the second period. The Sharks young players have had a lot to say about this series, and on this night, they would score most of the goals.
"It was important that (the young players) contributed, and they have," said McLellan. "They have had an impact on our playoffs thus far, and tonight they were rewarded with some goals. I thought Scottie Nichols' line really started our team tonight, but the young guys played with a lot of discipline and found a way to contribute."
Both teams have continuously said there would not be any "pretty" goals, but the first one of game five was just exactly that.
"We have a lot of confidence in Logan," said McLellan, who has been increasing Couture's ice time as the playoffs develop.Torrey Mitchell
won a gritty battle on the left half-boards, cleared the puck up the boards to a streaking Patty Marleau, who brought it into the attacking zone, then waited for Dany Heatley to come loose on the far side of the crease. His pass to Heatley was quickly fired across the crease to a waiting Couture who redirected it through Anderson before he could turn and face Couture, at 8:25 of the period.
Couture was caught on Comcast with a grin as wide as his stick blade while describing the play.
The entire team was grinning moments later, as T.J. Galiardi went into the box for holding the stick at 10:15. The Sharks won the faceoff, and Joe Pavelski
ripped a wicked slap shot from the blue line past a sprawling Anderson, just six seconds into the man-advantage.
They kept the pressure on, with a rare long rebound off Anderson causing a true "crash of the net" by Devin Setoguchi, who carried the puck and Anderson into and through the net. No goal, but another moment with the Sharks showing they planned to hold the momentum.
With a two goal lead, the first for either team in the series, the ice seemed to open up a bit. The Sharks were just a touch faster, the Avs, just a bit back on their heels, and the Sharks struck for a third score at 15:30.
Scott Nichol put a pass off the back boards that rebounded in front of the goal line but behind Anderson, and Helminen, who had been working hard all night, was right there to poke it home.
"It was a great play by Scottie off the rush. He saw Anderson cheating out a little bit, and he put one off the wall to me," Helminen said of his first-ever playoff goal.
"We try to focus on playing within the system and not going outside our own abilities. One of the things I can do is skate, and I tried to use my speed to my advantage."
At 10:37, the Sharks put the exclamation point on the night, as Couture crashed the net and scored his second of the night off a rebound of a Ryane Clowe
"You aren't going to score if you don't go to the net," Couture said. "We (the young players) were great in our own end, and played with a lot of energy defensively."