THE FINAL 40
Hockey is a 60-minute game divided into three, 20-minute periods. After the first 20 on Monday night, the San Jose Sharks were down 1-0 to the Nashville Predators. The shots on goal were close (San Jose had an 11-7 edge) and so were the hits (the Sharks had a 15-11 advantage).
But the final 40 minutes made the difference. The Sharks out shot the Predators, 30-13; and out hit Nashville, 22-16. Most importantly, San Jose out scored the Preds, 3-0, and won, 3-1, in Game Three of the Western Conference Quarterfinals.
One of the key players in the final two periods was right wing Mike Grier. He earned the game’s No. 1 star by leading the Sharks with seven shots – six of those coming in the second and third periods. And his effort was quite economical, as he posted just 13:08 of ice time.
Monday’s win, like all playoff game wins, was very important. For starters, San Jose had lost, 5-2, last Friday in Nashville. In addition, Game Three was the Sharks first home game and the victory gave the Sharks a 2-1 lead in the series.
“We skated better tonight,” Grier said. “We tried to relax and get our forecheck game going. As the game went on, we did a good job on our dumps and getting in on the forecheck.”
San Jose’s home crowd has quite the reputation as being one of the most boisterous in the National Hockey League. Take that into consideration and the young Sharks roster (eight under the age of 25), the ramp-up time for getting adjusted to the intense playoff atmosphere is very short.
“Some guys were probably too excited,” Grier said. “There was some nervous energy to start. We weren’t as sharp with our passes and we weren’t as good with our execution. But as the period went on, we got our forecheck game going and we were doing a good job getting pucks.”
Confidence was there on the Sharks side after that first period. A key came in the middle of the second period. Kimmo Timonen and Jared Smithson took penalties nearly a minute apart, giving San Jose a two-man advantage. However, the Sharks didn’t score. In fact, San Jose failed to convert on all six power play opportunities. And in the series, the Sharks have one power play goal in 18 chances.
But after all, San Jose had the NHL’s second-best power play unit during the regular season.
“Everyone’s making a big deal about our power play not executing,” Grier said. “But they’ve been great all year. We have lots of confidence in them.”
This quarterfinal series is the best of seven games. Right now, San Jose has the 2-1 edge. But Grier knows that no team can keep players like Peter Forsberg (two shots and zero points in almost 21 minutes) and Paul Kariya (no shots and no points in over 19-and-a-half minutes) off the score sheet every game.
“There’s still a lot of hockey left,” Grier said. “There’s still a lot of dangerous guys over there.”
At 8:38 of the second period, defenseman Craig Rivet put the Sharks on the scoreboard. His snap shot from the right point was tapped in by Milan Michalek.
Rivet has been a big contributor to San Jose’s postseason. Entering Game Three, he shared the team’s scoring lead with three points (two goals and an assist).
Rivet probably doesn’t mind not getting credit for the goal. He has frequently said that he’ll shoot from the point and have one of the Sharks big forwards in the slot deflect the puck into the net.
Rivet, who was acquired on Feb. 25 near the trading deadline from Montreal, has provided a few things the Sharks sorely needed. He’s a 10-plus year veteran (12, to be exact) and the lone right handed-shooting blueliner on the team. Plus, something else.
“He’s a lot like an extra coach,” Coach Ron Wilson said.
“He’ll probably be mad at me for saying that,” Wilson added. “That’s the last thing a player wants to hear.”
THE FIRST TIME
Forward Joe Pavelski
made his Stanley Cup Playoff debut on Monday night. He had a shot and won five of his 10 faceoffs in 11:29 of ice time.
This was the 22-year-old rookie’s first taste of the San Jose playoff atmosphere.
“It was pretty cool,” Pavelski said. “I saw it on TV last year when Patty (Patrick Marleau
) had his hat trick (Game Four of the Western Conference Quarterfinals vs. Nashville). It was crazy. You could tell just by watching. To be out there in person tonight was just awesome.”
But Pavelski’s job wasn’t to watch the crowd or celebrate his first NHL postseason game. And he knew that very well.
“I saw the first two games (in Nashville), so I knew what to expect,” he said. “It was a good game to get into. It’s not really about my first game. It’s about our team getting a win out there.”
Big noisy crowds are no stranger to Pavelski. He experienced them during his two seasons at Wisconsin and had more than his share as the Badgers won the 2006 NCAA Championship.
“It’s much the same (in the NCAA and the NHL),” Pavelski said. “Every goal is so big. Fans cheer for the big hits. It’s just wild.”