NASHVILLE – The Stanley Cup Playoffs are all about mid-series adjustments. After dropping the first two games due primarily to losing the special teams battle, the Predators made one change to their strategy on the penalty kill, sparking a 4-1 win at Bridgestone Arena in Game 3 on Tuesday night.
Nashville scored a pair of man advantage goals, and held the Sharks’ previously scorching power play at bay. San Jose went 0-for-4, with just four shots on goal.
“They were a little better up [the] ice, I think. They showed us a little different look,” Joe Pavelski said of the Predators’ penalty killers, who had allowed three goals on five chances through games one and two.
Patrick Marleau agreed with the captain’s assessment, adding that the Sharks took too many penalties, too. San Jose had been shorthanded just eight times in its previous four games combined – all wins – before being down a man five times on Tuesday.
“I think it was huge for us, killing off that many penalties. That way you kind of lose your momentum five-on-five, and guys have to go out and use that energy to penalty kill,” Marleau said. “We can do a better job at that.”
The game turned on a Joonas Donskoi double-minor for high-sticking James Neal. The Sharks led 1-0 on a Marleau score in the first period, but Neal wired in a one-timer at 5:11 of the second with Donskoi serving out the second half of the extended penalty.
The call did not sit well with Pavelski or coach Pete DeBoer. It was a high stick, sure, but four minutes?
“Obviously there’s a big momentum shift there. I’d still like an explanation on how it’s a double-minor,” DeBoer said. “Regardless, some of those go against you, and we’ve got to get it killed.”
Pavelski said: “It’s one of those calls that [could go] either way. [Neal is] not bleeding much, he’s got a little scrape on his lip.”
Still, it was a 1-1 game at that point, until a misplay by Donskoi in the neutral zone led to Shea Weber’s howitzer during a four-on-four situation, giving the Preds their first lead. The Sharks had a couple good looks on a brief advantage after Matt Nieto exited the box, but Brent Burns and Logan Couture missed the net.
Colin Wilson’s score at 6:55 of the third thanks to some soft Sharks defensive zone coverage upped it to 3-1, and Filip Forsberg’s power play marker with 4:11 to go sealed Nashville’s first victory in the series.
The Sharks’ biggest concern headed into Game 3 was managing the puck better, after they counted 29 turnovers internally in Game 2. That was a bit better on Tuesday, as was their four line attack, even with DeBoer needing to shuffle his bottom three lines to start the third period.
San Jose outshot Nashville at even strength, 22-14.
“I actually liked our five-on-five game better than I did last game,” DeBoer said. “I still don’t think we played as well as we can. I still think we have another level. I thought there was improvement on our end. We had some really good looks. Could have had two or three goals.”
Marleau said: “We did some good things … Obviously you’d like to see a little bit more sustained pressure in their zone, and some more shots.”
Despite not playing well in Game 2, and falling in Game 3, the Sharks still own a two-games-to-one lead. It’s the same position they found themselves in against Los Angeles in the first round, capturing the first two games before dropping the third. They closed out the Kings in five games.
“It’s a different series, but any time you can be up in a series is a good thing,” Martin Jones said. “We want to make sure that we come with a better mindset next game and a better effort. It’s not a team we want to let back in the series.”
“Nobody’s sweeping anybody this time of year,” DeBoer said. “We’ll settle in, and this will take as long as it’s going to take.”