The question of rust vs. rest might have been answered in the first game of the Pacific Division finals Friday, April 29. byteclay.com’s photo list of stars is headlined by the host San Jose Sharks because they had enough gas in the tank to dominate the third period.
The Nashville Predators just finished the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs on Wednesday and started stronger, holding a 1-0 lead through two periods. Their opponent had been waiting for them in San Jose for a week and was already starting to dictate play before taking over in the final frame.
After an even first period, the Sharks dominated play enough to have a big event summary edge for the game: 34-29 faceoffs, 18-13 giveaways, 15-6 takeaways, 42-32 hits, 38-31 shots and 79-55 attempts. The Predators stayed in the contest until late by defending well, with a 25-15 edge in blocks that translates to a better ratio of shots per block (1.52 vs. 2.07) and percentage of attempts blocked (31.6 vs. 27.3).
Nashville broke through first 4:33 into the second. In the final 15 seconds of the largely ineffective second power play, Ryan Johansen sent a cross-ice feed that Mike Fisher was able to lift into the corner past Martin Jones.
San Jose was unable to answer that until the final 15 seconds of its second power play 2:37 into the third. Joel Ward moved the puck from Marc-Edouard Vlasic to Tomas Hertl on the right-wing side of the crease, and the talented lefty squeezed a shot between Pekka Rinne and the post to tie the game.
Ward finished off the next score after getting the puck from Joonas Donskoi on a partial breakaway. When he got Rinne down on a fake, he skated in back of goal line and tucked the puck in behind the goalie to give Brent Burns his first assist.
Burns got another assist on what turned out to be the game-winning goal by getting the puck down low to his captain on the power play. Joe Pavelski then sent a pass across in front of the crease that Logan Couture redirected home backhanded with 4:20 to play.
The Predators got back into the game in the final two minutes with Rinne pulled. Roman Josi sent a Colin Wilson pass toward the net where it bounced off the foot of Burns and face of Johansen past Jones. However, Logan Couture (from Nick Spaling) and Tommy Wingels (unassisted) added empty-net goals to make the final margin 5-2.
Wingels nearly had another goal earlier in the game but the puck rested on the line after hitting the post. Hertl was active outside of his goal, twice tying up Nashville sticks to prevent scoring chances.
Still, the second line was the best as Ward, Donskoi and Couture created chances all night. The Sharks scored on two of three power plays to raise their efficiency to seven of 24 (29.2 percent) throughout the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs. The Predators converted one of three but are still just two of 28 throughout the postseason (7.1 percent).
The next game of the Pacific Division finals is back at SAP Center Sunday at 5 p.m. If San Jose wins three of the next six, it will play the winner between the Dallas Stars (victors in the opener of the Central Division finals) and St. Louis Blues for the right to compete in the Stanley Cup finals.