NASHVILLE – In their second round playoff series with the Predators, the Sharks have slipped since opening it up with a decisive win. Despite winning Game 2, they were outplayed at even strength. In Game 3 it was special teams that let them down in their first loss of the series.
Perhaps the threat of Nashville tying it up at two games apiece will jolt them back to life on Thursday night for Game 4 at Bridgestone Arena.
“It definitely grabs our attention, for sure, losing a game,” Pete DeBoer said on Thursday morning. “I would expect our desperation level to be in a real good place tonight.”
After indicating on Wednesday that there could be a lineup change or two for Game 4, DeBoer will apparently stick with the same 18 skaters he’s rolled with for each of the Sharks’ first eight playoff games.
There was some concern that captain Joe Pavelski, who missed at least one shift with a quick trip to the dressing room in Game 3, might be among the banged up players to which DeBoer was referring. Pavelski and Patrick Marleau were the only Sharks not to take part in the morning skate.
Pavelski, though, is fine.
“Oh yeah, for sure,” said the captain.
Pavelski and his line with Joe Thornton and Tomas Hertl have been generally held in check through the first three games at even strength. Pavelski’s third period goal in Game 2 is their only five-on-five score in a manned net so far, while Thornton, the Sharks’ leading scorer in the regular season, has just one empty net goal and one secondary assist in his last four games.
Thornton said: “We expect it’s going to be hard to score five-on-five, you’re going to have to earn your goals, and we’ve definitely had to.”
“It’s tight, [the Predators] don’t give up a whole lot,” Pavelski said. “With that being said, we can definitely create a little bit more. We can have more support. We’ve been a little spread out at times, I think.”
Getting the last change at home is an advantage for Nashville, too, as it can get its top defense pair out on the ice against the Thornton line much more often.
DeBoer said: “They’re playing against Shea Weber every shift, so usually in the playoffs those guys get extra attention, the top lines on both teams. ... I think they are still creating chances, they’re still working. I’ve got no problem with their game.”
Nashville found success in Game 3 after making a small adjustment on their penalty kill, denying the Sharks on four opportunities.
“They’re a great power play,” Nashville’s Mike Fisher said. “They move it around well. That was a big part of Game 3.”
It’s now up to the Sharks to respond, and Pavelski relayed some things he feels his club can do better.
“Some of the forechecking routes that we run, some of our support, little plays,” he said. “It’s just about making sure you’re talking out there, skating a little bit better."
Conversely, Nashville expects the Sharks to regroup and push harder. They likely learned that lesson in the first round, when they beat the Ducks in the first two games but then dropped the next three.
“I think sometimes when you have a good game, there’s a tendency to maybe sit back and admire that,” Fisher said. “You can’t do that by any means here. You know the other team is going to be coming.”