SAN JOSE – Despite capturing their fourth straight playoff game and taking a commanding two-games-to-none lead on the Predators on Sunday night, there wasn’t an overly euphoric feeling in the Sharks dressing room after the 3-2 win.
They know, of course, they are only halfway to winning their second round series against Nashville. But more than that, the Sharks knew they got away with one against the Predators, who were the more determined team in Game 2 in just about every way despite playing their ninth game in 17 days.
Despite the loss, the Predators had more shots than San Jose (39-25), more shot attempts (75-61), and were more physical, with 46 hits to the Sharks’ 26.
“I thought they were better than us for the majority of that game,” Logan Couture said.
“A lot of guys didn’t bring their best effort tonight, and we got bailed out by [Martin Jones] making some big saves. We spent too much time in our end. We made mistakes that we really haven’t been making throughout the playoffs so far – trying to get fancy through the neutral zone, turning pucks over, not being strong enough in our own end. We weren’t our best.”
The two goals San Jose scored in a manned net, though, were essentially enough. The power play remained lethal, giving the Sharks a 1-0 lead on Couture’s marker late in the second period, and finishing 1-for-2. That part of their game has been superb all playoffs.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Sharks strike late, take 2-0 lead over Predators]
The other, breaking a 1-1 tie, came from captain Joe Pavelski. The Sharks’ top line had done almost nothing all night until there were less than three minutes to go, but Pavelski managed to bang home a Matt Nieto rebound at 17:20 of the third period on a rush that began with a pretty cross-ice setup by Joe Thornton. Prior to that, the Preds were pushing for the go-ahead goal after Mattias Ekhom had tied it.
Couture said: “Big goal by Pavs there. They had momentum. They were taking it to us in that third period.”
Despite struggling for most of the night, the team’s best players came through when needed.
“Those guys set the tempo,” coach Pete DeBoer said. “They don't panic on the bench. I think that kind of bleeds through our group."
Just like Couture, Pavelski knows that he and his linemates will have to be better as the series shifts to Nashville. At the same time, they still found a way to be difference-makers.
“I don’t think it was our line’s best game, by any means,” Pavelski said. “It was one of those games there’s not much out there, you may not be moving as well.
“You just have to refocus. … Our last shift you take a look [at the clock], there’s three minutes left, it’s tied. You hope for a chance.”
While giving up 39 shots is something they Sharks would like to improve upon, Jones was his typical calm and collected self in goal. Ekholm’s shot through traffic was the only puck to beat him before Ryan Johansen’s score on a scramble in front of the net with 3.6 seconds left had little meaning.
Jones was a bit of an unsung hero in Game 1, when the Sharks exploded for five goals in the third period of a 5-2 win. In Game 2, his performance was much more noticeable as he saw more action while answering Pekka Rinne’s outstanding night on the other end.
“He was our best player, and he needed to be,” DeBoer said. “I think their guy was pretty good, too. He made a couple unbelievable saves, regardless of what the shot clock said. It was great goaltending at both ends."
Whether the Preds are discouraged now after throwing what was likely their best game at the Sharks will be determined next week at Bridgestone Arena. From San Jose’s point of view, they can at least take a measure of comfort in knowing that even when they aren’t at the top of their game, they can still find a way to get the end result they’re seeking.
That’s necessary on a Stanley Cup run.
“It’s nice to go up 2-0,” said Marc-Edouard Vlasic, who seemed no worse for wear after taking a Shea Weber slap shot to the visor. “You always want to win every game you play in, and we found a way to do that.”
DeBoer said: “In the playoffs, you’ve got to win all kinds of different ways.”