The NHL’s playoff bracket is a little bit broken when each conference’s best two teams are playing each other in the second round, but a nice side effect is that we’re getting close series—and through two games, they look close all around. That includes Sharks-Predators, even if San Jose is up 2-0. Nashville was the better team in last night’s 3-2 Sharks win, outshooting and outhitting by significant margins, but you don’t have to watch hockey very long to realize the better team doesn’t always win.
“I think we were the better team out there tonight,” Mattias Ekholm said. “Especially in the second, late in the first and in the third. We were just as good as they were tonight. They got a lucky bounce in the end and scored.”
We’ll get to that bounce in a second—luck played a part, but wasn’t all of it—but this was a game full of weird happenings. The Sharks got on the board first with a second-period power play from Logan Couture, and San Jose got their man advantage in a way I’m not sure I’ve seen before.
Watch Roman Josi, who was attempting to change, spot the puck coming right at him. Rather than take the too-many-men penalty, Josi bailed over the nearest board—directly into the Sharks bench.
“I’m assuming it’s a rule that the other player can’t change onto your bench,” coach Peter DeBoer deadpanned. “But I don’t know.”
“I think someone on our bench grabbed him to make sure he stayed there,” Paul Martin joked.
Couture slammed home a rebound to make it 1-0, and the Sharks’ good-as-hell power play is 3-for-5 in this series, and an excellent 8-of-26 in the playoffs. (Nashville’s is just 2-of-31 in the postseason.)
Mattias Ekholm found the equalizer midway through the third, and this one looked like it was destined for OT, until the Sharks’ top line struck yet again. The singular best part of this sequence was the pass from Joe Thornton—a seeing-eye dart that threaded two Preds’ stick blades by inches—that set up Matt Nieto’s shot and Joe Pavelski’s wide-open rebound.
That the rebound went right to Pavelski was indeed some luck. But that doesn’t happen, and the Predators aren’t thrown so out of position (see Pekka Rinne in the photo at the top of the story, on the wrong side of the wrong post) without Thornton’s ballsy cross-ice pass causing chaos. Thornton didn’t become one of the best set-up men of his generation by repeatedly getting lucky.
Thornton later scored an empty-netter to put this one away, even as the Preds got one back with four seconds left. The series now heads to Nashville with the Sharks pretty firmly in control—a position, to be fair, that they’re not unused to, though it feels like only this year that having a series lead is an advantage rather than an inevitably opportunity to choke.
The smart money says the real Stanley Cup Finals are taking place right now out east, between Pittsburgh and Washington. And I wouldn’t bet against that. But I’ve been dragged firmly on board with the Sharks, who are fun when they’re firing on all cylinders, able to tough out wins when they’re not, getting a ton of scoring from their top guys, and quietly receiving very good goaltending from Martin Jones. Oh, and they’re playing with confidence. That’s new. Join me on the Sharks bandwagon! There are plenty of seats. Oh, uh, there are also plenty of seats available at the SAP Center, too.