NASHVILLE – Getting a pair of goals from an unlikely source in a playoff game – or any game, for that matter – is typically enough to propel a team to victory. That’s even truer when they are the first two goals.
That’s what happened in Game 6 in Nashville, as the Sharks quickly jumped out in front of the Predators on a pair of first period scores by Chris Tierney, who had just seven goals in 79 regular season games. The 21-year-old tipped in a Marc-Edouard Vlasic shot midway through the opening frame, and less than two minutes later slammed home a loose puck into a wide open net.
The Sharks had two goals. The Predators had just one shot, and it didn’t go in.
But one odd bounce on Roman Josi’s soft backhand from between the circles at 15:27 of the first period put Nashville on the board and completely turned the tide. From that point on, the Predators played their most dominant hockey of the series, capped off by Viktor Arvidsson’s overtime score to force a Game 7. Nashville won, 4-3.
“We started well, we scored two goals, we were playing good,” Joonas Donskoi said. “They got one, and kind of got the momentum back. We kind of lost it. We didn’t play well in the second, third or overtime.”
Vlasic said: “[The Josi goal] gave them a lot of momentum. At 2-0, if we get that next one, it kind of puts everybody to sleep.”
Instead, the only ones sleeping from then on were the Sharks, at least in comparison to a Nashville team that was fighting to stay alive. Even when the Sharks retook the lead on Logan Couture’s third period power play goal at 10:04 to make it 3-2, helped in part by Pekka Rinne losing his balance, Nashville kept on coming.
Two minutes and 40 seconds later, Colin Wilson – quickly becoming the Sharks’ biggest nemesis in the series – finished off a pretty tic-tac-toe passing play aided in large part to some sloppy defending by Joel Ward and Brenden Dillon. Three-three.
Couture explained what went wrong after he had given San Jose the lead again.
“The next two shifts they were in our end, and then we had a breakdown on a [three-on-three] where guys are standing around, and it’s in the back of our net.”
Still, despite getting outshot 25-9 over the final two periods, the Sharks had a chance to wrap up the series in overtime. That’s nearly what they did, too, when Couture neatly set up Donskoi for a prime view of the net.
The rookie tried going glove side on Rinne, but couldn’t sneak it through.
About a minute later, another series of misplays helped Nashville win its second game in extra time. Melker Karlsson clumsily let a floating puck deflect off of him right to Arvidsson, while Martin Jones, who looked as shaky as he has in weeks, let Arvidsson’s backhand from the circle beat him to the high far corner.
The Predators deserved the win, and they got it.
“We didn’t have our best game, but we had our chance to go out and score our goal and win a series. Unfortunately, we didn’t,” Couture said. “They were better than us tonight.”
For the first time in the series, there will now be two days off before the next meeting on Thursday. San Jose will get the chance to close it out in its own building, where it was miserable in the regular season but has won four straight in the playoffs.
Maybe that extra day will prevent the Preds from carrying any momentum from Game 6 into that deciding game. Maybe Nashville will benefit from finally getting two days off in the playoffs, after their first round series with Anaheim went the full seven games. Or, maybe the Sharks will regroup and give the kind of complete effort they did in a dominant Game 5 performance.
Game 7 will reveal the answers.
“We didn’t play our best game and we almost won,” Vlasic said. “We’ll have a better effort on Thursday.”
Coach Pete DeBoer said: “I think based on how the series has been played, this should come down to Game 7. That’s what hockey is about.”