The Western Conference Quarterfinal series between the San Jose Sharks and the Nashville Predators shifted back to San Jose on Monday night with the series tied 1-1.
Both Evgeni Nabokov and Tomas Vokoun manned their respective nets for the third straight game as the two teams squared off for the all-important Game Three.
Both clubs posted early offensive opportunities, but it was a Patrick Marleau
hit that flattened Darcy Hordichuk that brought the biggest cheer.
Halfway through the first, San Jose led in shots 7-5, but it was still scoreless . . . until the Predators sixth shot. On the three-on-two, a perfectly placed pass to Ryan Suter from David Legwand resulted in a wide open net and a 1-0 lead.
When Vernon Fiddler tripped up Christian Ehrhoff with six left in the first, Team Teal took to their first power play. Many shots resulted, but not the tying goal during the two minutes.
Showing no ill effects from the cheap shot to the head on Friday, Bernier took over on his next shift. First he flattened Martin Erat along the boards with a massive body check, then as he gained control later in the same shift, “Big Bear” carried the play behind Vokoun and was looking for the wrap-around when Suter hauled him down.
Just like the first power play, the Sharks had plenty of chances, with Vokoun giving up several juicy rebounds, but the puck fell where San Jose wasn’t.
The Sharks led 11-7 on the shot chart, but trailed 1-0 after 20 minutes.
The second began with two pushing and shoving matches, with the second seeing Grier and Forsberg sent to the sin bin. The Sharks held the zone for most the play, but it was a Jason Arnott breakaway that would have been a two-goal deficit, except that Nabokov was still sitting as the last line of defense. Not only did the Sharks netminder make the stop, he rebuffed Arnott’s rebound effort.
Midway through Game 2, San Jose was outfiring their guests 20-10, but they were still trailing. But shot 21 would change things. Following a Thornton faceoff win that the NHL’s second leading scorer drew back to the point, Craig Rivet eyed a holed and sent it toward Vokoun. The problem for Nashville was Vokoun had to deal with Milan Michalek driving the net and he redirected the shot for the Sharks first goal.
Team Teal had a power play opportunity when Kariya was sent to the box for slashing, and while they did not score, they made it 2-1 just as Kariya returned to the ice. A cross-ice pass found Clowe all alone in near the faceoff dot and he snapped a wrist shot that squeezed through Vokoun.
The ice was tilted toward the Sharks goal and Nashville was holding on with everything they had. Bill Guerin was tripped up on a breakaway and then Cheechoo was crosschecked in the back, providing Team Teal an extended five-on-three, but Nashville managed to keep the deficit at one.
Nashville had a power play to try and tie late, but the Sharks penalty killers showed their resiliency and preserved the 2-1 lead heading into the break.
The Predators had the initial break of the third when Michalek was given an interference call with 14 left in regulation. On the blueline it was Hannan, Vlasic, McLaren and Rivet who held off the opposition, while alternating shifts of Goc and Rissmiller, along with Grier and Brown, snuffed out any Predators scoring room.
As the Sharks approached their 40th shot on the night, more than doubling the Predators, they were still clinging to the one-goal lead less than five minutes remaining. Then on shot 40 exactly, the Captain provided the breathing room.
He began the play by forcing a turnover by the Nashville defender. Then, when Guerin let it fly on net, Marleau reached in front of Vokoun and sent the puck inside the far post.
The Sharks looked to go on the power play in the final minutes when an errant Arnott stick struck Michalek in the face, but the play went uncalled and the two teams played the time remaining in regulation at even strength.
A tenacious forecheck and strong defensive work in the Sharks zone sealed the victory as the Sharks killed the remaining time. After the final horn had sounded, Vernon Fiddler took a run at Rivet, but the veteran side-stepped the Nashville forward and returned to his crease to celebrate with his teammates.
Game 4 at HP Pavilion will be a 7 p.m. start on Versus, 98.5 KFOX and sjsharks.com.