SAN JOSE -– The Predators have played a lot of hockey lately.
Sunday’s Game 2 of their second round series with the Sharks will mark their ninth game in 17 days, six of which have come on the road. After finishing off the Ducks in Game 7 on Wednesday in Anaheim, they flew right to San Jose the next day and promptly dropped a 5-2 decision on Friday night.
The Sharks, who had been off for a week, exploded for five third period goals in capturing the series opener. It was probably no coincidence they were the better team as the game progressed.
“I’m sure our legs showed in the third that we were a little bit fresher,” Pete DeBoer said. “Do I think that carries over into tonight? I don’t think so. The number of games I think starts to really hit you in the third and fourth rounds, in my history going deep into the playoffs, as opposed to right now. I think both teams are still fairly fresh. They’ve had a couple days to rest, I’m sure we’re going to get their best game tonight.”
Nashville stayed off of the ice on Saturday and Sunday, so pregame warmups at SAP Center will be the first time they’ll have their skates laced up since the end of Game 1. The Sharks, conversely, held a pair of optional skates. They’ll hope to be much more ready for game speed than they were on Friday, when it took them some time to get their engines revved up.
“We think it’s an advantage how fresh we are,” Tommy Wingels said. “Guys are rested.”
San Jose will be trying to take a commanding two-games-to-none lead before the series shifts to Nashville on Tuesday and Thursday for games three and four.
The Sharks are 3-0 on the road in the postseason after winning a league-leading 28 in the regular season. Nashville was 1-2 at home in the first round.
“We obviously want to plant some seeds of doubt, and go up 2-0 and hold serve here and go on the road where we’ve been very good all year,” DeBoer said. “I’m sure they’re thinking that if they can get a split, that’s a pretty successful trip out here.”
* * *
Despite giving up a power play goal to Mike Fisher on Friday, the Sharks won the special teams battle with a pair of power play scores by Tomas Hertl and Logan Couture.
While the power play has been deadly throughout their playoff run so far, the penalty kill checks in with just a 75.0 success rate. While it could be better, San Jose has been shorthanded just five times over its past three playoff games – all wins.
“We’ve done a good job of that, not beating ourselves, and we’re going to have to continue to do that,” Matt Nieto said.
Although they finished with a 80.5 penalty kill rate in the regular season (21st in the league), the Sharks were shorthanded for just 385 minutes and 21 seconds, the seventh fewest in the NHL.
DeBoer said: “We've had the mantra all year of playing hard between the whistles, physical between the whistles and then staying out of the stuff afterwards. I think we've done a good job of that."
There was a scrum at the end of Game 1, that was sparked for reasons that weren’t quite clear on the video replay. A total of 22 penalty minutes were handed out, including a 10-minute misconduct on Nashville defenseman Barret Jackman.
The Sharks didn’t seem overly concerned about the late dustup.
“I think just frustration on their part,” said Nieto, who was on the ice at the time. “They kind of wanted to ruffle some feathers there at the end of the game. You could expect that. It’s going to be a long series. That’s hockey.”
* * *
DeBoer wouldn’t say on Sunday morning whether he plans on keeping his third and fourth lines the same as they were at the end of Game 1, or if he’ll go back to how he started. In the third period, he moved Chris Tierney up to center the third line between Patrick Marleau and Melker Karlsson, while Nick Spaling skated between Wingels and Nieto on the fourth line.
Tierney ended up being San Jose’s best faceoff man, going 9-for-11 in the circle in Game 1.
“I can usually tell when he’s moving his feet and competing, based on his faceoff percentage,” DeBoer said. “That’s something that Chris has worked at all year, and it hasn’t been easy. He’s stumbled a little bit, we sent him back to the minors because of the inconsistency in that area. I think he’s starting to understand now the importance of all those compete details all over the ice.”