In this key Western Conference battle, the Sharks were the team to leave Bridgestone Arena with two points as they won 2-1 in overtime over the Nashville Predators. Patrick Marleau – notorious Preds-killer – scored the game-winner to help San Jose catch Nashville in the standings.
Two of the hottest goaltenders in the NHL faced off on Tuesday night, and the duel certainly lived up to its billing. Antti Niemi was the star of the night by making 30 saves, with a couple turning out to be huge moments in the game. Meanwhile, Pekka Rinne kept the Predators in the game as he turned away 48 of the 50 shots thrown his way.
The Preds wasted no time to get pressure on Niemi in the first period. They picked up the first seven shots of the game as the ice was tilted in their favor. Cody Franson finally capitalized when he put the Preds up 1-0 on the power play. Franson picked up a cross-ice pass from Steve Sullivan and buried the wrister, with Patric Hornqvist providing the screen in front.
San Jose had their fair share of chances later in the period, most of which came on the power play. Rinne shut the door on the Sharks’ five-on-three advantage with a handful of quality saves, though, allowing the Preds to hold their one-goal lead.
Martin Erat had a great chance to extend that lead at the end of the first, hitting the post with a wide-open net. It turned out to be an important swing in the game.
“Marty hit the post there and that could have made it 2-0,” said Preds defenseman Shane O’Brien. “Those little things add up into winning or losing games. We just couldn’t find a way to get that second one, they hung in there, we started turning the puck over, and you can’t feed their transition.”
Devin Setoguchi tied the game at the 9:13 mark of the second. He took a breakout pass from Kent Huskins, broke in down the wall, and ripped a laser past Rinne’s glove shoulder from a bad angle.
“The way Pekka played that, he had probably 99% of the net covered,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. “Sometimes the perfect puck, placed in the right spot trumps everything. A perfect shot… it went in.”
Ryan Suter had a great opportunity with 2:40 remaining in the middle period, but his two-on-one one-timer was denied by a sprawling Niemi. Steve Sullivan also had a breakaway chance in the period that Niemi stoned.
The Sharks came out flying in the first ten minutes of the third, outshooting the Preds 12-0 in that time and controlling the play. Both teams traded chances to close out regulation in what turned out to be more of a close-to-the-vest period than the first two.
Todd McLellan’s gang continued to mount pressure in Nashville’s zone in the extra frame, and finally broke through as Marleau deposited the overtime winner on a clear breakaway from center-ice.
“(Overtime fed) off the third period,” Preds defenseman Shea Weber said. “They definitely had the momentum and we didn’t do anything to take it back. Obviously they capitalized.”
“We didn’t manage the puck in traffic at their blueline,” added Trotz. “Marleau came off the bench and we had D up on the play probably a little too tight.”
With the loss, the Predators stayed winless in overtime (not including the shootout). They are 0-5 in overtime this year, with four of those losses coming on home-ice.
“It’s a completely different game, it’s four-on-four,” O’Brien said. “We don’t really run-and-gun – that’s not our style. When you get into those situations, it’s more up and down the ice.”
The best penalty kill unit on home-ice in the NHL, which killed all four penalties, was a big reason why the Preds came away with a point.
“They were really huge,” Trotz said. “We had a five-on-three against us and we killed it off. They were huge even when it got tied 1-1. They get that second goal and it could have been over. Because of that, we got a point tonight.”
A few players mentioned this game had more of a playoff-intensity than usual, and Trotz further divulged: “The intensity and the matchups started to be a little more of a focus than they have in the past. It’s going to get ramped up here in the West. (San Jose) caught us but they didn’t pass us, so that’s got to be one positive.”
Towards the end of overtime, Kevin Klein appeared to hurt his shoulder or arm (let’s just call it upper-body), but it does not appear to be a serious injury.
Trotz and company will close out the week with key home games against the Canucks and Coyotes.