SAN JOSE – It wasn’t a dramatic change, but it had the desired effect.
At the start of the third period of Friday night’s Game 1 at SAP Center between the Sharks and Predators, coach Pete DeBoer flip-flopped Matt Nieto and Chris Tierney, moving Tierney to the third line center between Patrick Marleau and Melker Karlsson. Nieto skated with Tommy Wingels and Nick Spaling.
None of those players scored five-on-five (Wingels had a late empty-netter), but DeBoer felt the Sharks displayed more of the four-line attack he’s always aiming for in what was a dominant five-goal final frame for San Jose in a 5-2 win.
“I think we finally started to get into that four-line rhythm where everyone was coming over the boards with energy and getting in on the forecheck,” DeBoer said. “Up until that point, I thought [Logan] Couture's line was really good in the first couple periods; [Joe] Thornton's line in spurts. The other lines [were] just OK."
Nieto said: “I think in the third period we found more jump in our game, both on the third and the fourth lines. We were able to be more productive. I think it was a good switch on his part, and whenever he does do that it usually works out well.”
DeBoer doesn’t expect to make any lineup changes for Sunday’s Game 5 (5 p.m., NBCSN).
That includes, of course, goalie Martin Jones, who continues to impress in his first career playoff run as a starter. Jones improved to 5-1 in the playoffs with a 2.15 goals-against average and .917 save percentage.
Jones’ play was a big reason the Sharks were down only 1-0 after two periods in Game 1, as it took the Sharks some time to find their work legs after a week off, while Pekka Rinne was stopping everything he saw.
The 26-year-old admitted he’s gaining confidence with each passing game.
“Any time you get more experience you can learn from it, and use it as a learning tool,” Jones said. “Just keep moving forward here, and any more experience I get is only going to benefit us.”
DeBoer said: "He was our best player [in Game 1]. We needed him to be. He was the sharpest right from the start, gave us a chance to get our legs under us and get to the third period and have a chance to win that game."
Jones has allowed just 13 goals through six games, and a number of them have been on unfortunate bounces from his perspective. The Kings’ Jeff Carter scored one in the first round off of a double deflection, and another went in off of Anze Kopitar’s shin.
On Friday, a point shot by Roman Josi rattled around in the slot before deflecting over the line off of Ryan Johansen’s face.
None of them have rattled Jones.
“Teams are crashing the net hard, throwing pucks there, and there’s going to be some bounces like that,” he said. “That’s how you score in the playoffs. For me, I just focus on the game as it is, and try not to worry about that stuff.”
Nieto said: “He’s sharp and never panics. He’s been our backbone all playoffs. He’s just continuing that from last series.”
The team in front of Jones will attempt to be better from the drop of the puck on Sunday, as the Sharks will try and take a commanding two-games-to-none series lead before it shifts to Nashville next week.
Considering the way the Sharks have played on the road, with a 3-0 record at Staples Center in the first round and a league-leading 28 wins in the regular season, it could already be must-win time for Nashville.