NASHVILLE -- Despite the way it ended, the Sharks were generally satisfied with the way they played in the second half of Thursday night’s triple overtime defeat to Nashville in Game 4.
In Game 5 they maintained that high level, and this time they got the result they wanted in the form of a 5-1 trouncing of the Preds.
After that one, coach Pete DeBoer commented that his team has been getting progressively better throughout the second round. They’ll have a chance to close out Nashville and move on the NHL’s final four on Monday in Game 6.
Joe Pavelski agreed with his coach’s assessment.
“That overtime game, I think everyone elevated their game,” said the captain. “Not just in overtime, but towards the end. It’s good to see that we’ve carried it over. So, now, that’s where the level is set.”
The Sharks began the series by winning their first two games at home before dropping a pair in the Music City. Even in those first two wins, though, Paul Martin said the Sharks “didn’t necessarily play our best hockey throughout parts of the games.”
Martin said: “As we got to Game 4 here, the overtime game, I think we were playing some of our better hockey and creating opportunities and chances, just couldn’t find the back of the net. I think that carried into last game.”
The Predators, of course, will be fighting for their lives on Monday. Game 7 would be back in San Jose on Thursday.
If they are able to force it, they’ll likely need their best line of the series to keep producing. The trio of Mike Fisher, James Neal and Colin Wilson has been far and away the Preds’ best line, as Fisher and Wilson have each registered at least one point in each of the first five games.
In San Jose, DeBoer had the luxury of getting his top shutdown defense pair of Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun out against them after stoppages. In Nashville, Peter Laviolette will get the last change.
“We’ve obviously talked about them,” DeBoer said. “Those guys, to their credit, have done enough damage that they’re definitely a line that we’re spending more time on and paying more attention to than maybe coming into the series.”
* * *
DeBoer was pleased with Dainius Zubrus’ game on Saturday, as the veteran forward saw his first playoff action.
“I think he came in and did what I expected him to do,” DeBoer said. “He was big, he was physical, hard to play against, plays inside, he’s reliable defensively. He did everything that I expected he would.”
In 11:25 of ice time, Zubrus was scoreless with a plus-one rating and had six hits, one off of Pavelski’s team lead. His energy and physicality were evident.
“It’s the playoffs, so you try to finish [checks], and you know how [many minutes] their top four D play,” Zubrus said. “It doesn’t really matter against who, but when the opportunity is there, you want to do that.”
The 37-year-old would like to see his line, with Melker Karlsson and Nick Spaling, spend more time in the offensive zone.
“I think we got on the forecheck early in the game. … I know myself, I’d like to play in their end a little bit more,” Zubrus said.
* * *
Nashville finds itself in a familiar position. In the first round the Predators trailed the Ducks, three games to two, with Game 6 at Bridgestone Arena. They won that one, 3-1, and went on to capture the series in Game 7 in Anaheim.
“You take confidence that when we were in that position that we showed a lot of resiliency and desperation,” Neal said. “Came out with a big win in our building. I expect us to bounce back from our last game in San Jose.”
One difference between now and the first round, though, is that the Preds were generally pleased with their effort in a Game 5 loss to the Ducks. Against the Sharks on Saturday, they were outplayed for nearly the duration.
“They had more jump than we did in that game,” Laviolette said. “Not only was it the start, but went really through the entire game.”
“We’ve got to change our game and our attitude from Game 5 to Game 6 to be in a better place. Knowing our guys, I’m sure they’ll do that tonight.”