In the opening game of the playoff series between the San Jose Sharks and Colorado Avalanche, the Sharks’ iconically bearded players showed up often. One beard belongs to Norris Trophy finalist Brent Burns, the other to future Hall-of-Famer Joe Thornton.
The bearded duo was in all five scores in the Sharks’ 5-2 win. Burns dominated the game, totaling four points and finishing plus-four. Thornton centers the Sharks’ third line and he, along with his young linemates Kevin Labanc and Marcus Sorensen, provided most of the scoring Burns didn’t.
Sharks-Avs Game 1
Colorado opened the scoring just two minutes into the game. Gabriel Bourque took a juicy rebound off a Cale Makar shot and fired the puck past Sharks goalie Martin Jones. If the fans at the Shark Tank were nervous, it was understandable. The Sharks gave up early goals in three games to the Vegas Golden Knights in their first round series and lost all three. Further, Jones has been very Jekyll and Hyde during the regular season and playoffs. Getting the wrong version of Jones against the Avalanche and their high-powered offense wouldn’t be good.
It turns out, the ‘good Jones’ showed up. The Avalanche offense dominated the opening period, but Jones shut the door following the Borque goal. The Avs finished the period with 13 shots-on-goal, many of the ‘high-danger’ variety.
The Sharks, though, answered the Avs’ goal with one of their own, mostly because Burns is a freak of nature. The Sharks won a draw and Burns collected the puck just inside the right point. He made a pair of twisting moves no man his size should be able to make – and got close in before firing the puck on net. Avs goalie Philipp Grubauer made the initial save, but Gustav Nyquist collected the rebound and out-waited the goalie before flipping the puck over the sprawling netminder to tie the game at 1-1.
Sharks-Avalanche Period Two
The second period started ominously for the Sharks. A Dylan Gambrell tripping penalty gave the Avalanche their first power play and their second goal. The goal was a thing of beauty. Mikko Rantanen sent the puck from the right point to the slot area and onto the stick of Colin Wilson where it was perfectly redirected for the score. The ease with which Colorado moved the puck and the quality of their chances put the Sharks on notice, they need to stay out of the penalty box. But that didn’t happen.
Shortly after Colorado regained the lead, Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon high-sticked Avs forward J. T. Compher and since blood was drawn, it was a double minor. For over a minute, the Avs top power play unit gave the Sharks fits, with the Sharks dodging bullets much of the time. Yet as the power play continued, the Sharks seemed to find a new level of energy. Though the Avs pressed effectively for most of the four minutes and even beyond after the power play expired, one could sense a shift in the game.
The shift in energy turned into a Sharks goal courtesy of the Thornton line and more specifically, Sorensen. He blocked a point shot by Erik Johnson and with a favorable bounce, began a two-on-one fast break with Sam Girand left to defend. Sorensen’s speed forced Girard to commit a fraction of a second too soon. Sorensen fed the puck cross-ice to Thornton who fired the puck past Grubauer to even the game at the midpoint of the contest.
The Sharks took a 3-2 lead with 3:58 left on a highlight goal by Labanc. The abbreviated highlight loses the brilliance of Burns in the process. Burns began the play by helping the Sharks clear their own zone with a clean up-ice pass. The Sharks went to work from there, entering the offensive zone and spending time behind the net. They created a scoring opportunity before the puck battle, once again, went behind the net. A lot good happens for the Sharks when they take the puck the behind the net.
Seven Seconds of Brent Burns
In this case, from behind the net, Thornton sent the puck back up to Burns at the right point. Burns fired a shot which was tipped, but saved by Grubauer. A favorable Avs bounce allowed them to quickly clear the puck out of the zone on the side opposite from where Burns took the shot. And yet, somehow, Burns was there, too. Burns had skated from the right side of the ice in his offensive zone to the left side of the ice in his defensive zone in just moments.
I’ve written Burns covers an enormous amount of ice and this is an example. Burns collected the puck, spun around inside the defensive zone, then moved cross ice laterally all seemingly in one motion. The lateral move opened up a passing lane to Labanc at center ice. From the time Burns fired his initial shot from the right point to the time Labanc got the puck, was seven seconds, with Burns having made plays on along both blue lines and on both sides of the ice.
The pass hit Labanc in stride and from there, he did the rest, dancing through Rantanen first, then reversing direction in front Girard before shooting and scoring. For the first time, the Sharks had a lead.
Ahead 3-2, the Thornton line was not done, nor was Burns. With a minute left in the second period, Burns scored his first goal of playoffs to make it 4-2. The goal came on a point shot which deflected of an Avs player in front of the net. Sorensen and Thornton got assists. For Thornton, who spent the regular season hitting milestone after milestone, this was another – career playoff assist number 100.
Sharks-Avalanche Period Three
A strong defensive third period left the Avalanche down two goals, forcing them to go with six skaters and an empty net. Timo Meier filled the empty net for the final tally with half a minute left in the game. Burns assisted for his fourth point of the night.
Sharks-Avalanche One Game
The series opener is likely to have a different feel from the games which follow. For the Sharks, they needed to find emotion and energy. It took awhile, and if not for Jones’ early work, they might have had a rather large deficit to overcome. It was no surprise the extremely physical and highly emotional win over the Golden Knights just days earlier left the Sharks a bit flat at the start. The Sharks won’t stay flat and both teams know it.
It was also not surprising that the Avs, with a lengthy layoff between games, had much better energy, but also a bit of rust. Perhaps just enough rust so they weren’t able to convert more often on their chances early in the game. They Avs won’t stay rusty and both teams know it.
In their last series, the Sharks won the opener and then lost three straight before winning the final three games. The Avs lost their last series opener, then reeled off four straight win to send the Calgary Flames packing. In both series, Game 1 told us nothing about what was coming next.
Two things in particular stand out to me. The Avs’ power play looked dangerous and the three opportunities from Game 1 represent learning opportunities. Colorado has a chance to sharpen their power play further. The Sharks will need to avoid taking penalties or their penalty kill will need to vastly improve. And second, this series plays every other day and the wear and tear factor favors the younger, healthier and more rested Avalanche. The Avalanche are a quick team and the Sharks can’t afford to constantly chase them. The game tipped as the Sharks became more physical and slowed the Avs just a bit. The longer the series goes, the harder it will become to contain the Avs’ quickness and the more likely it is the series tips towards them.
History suggests Game 2 will be quite different and neither team should overthink the results from the series opener. Instead, each team has a better read on the other and what they must do to succeed. The chess game has begun.
• The difference in the atmosphere at the Shark Tank from Game 7 of the Vegas series to the opener of the Avalanche series was enormous. Sharks fans were noisy and boisterous for Game 1, but it’ll be very hard to match the energy and intensity from the Vegas series finale.
• Unlike the Vegas series where hard hits were routinely dished out, there was lot more hockey and a lot less attempt to intimidate. Only three penalties were called (one a double minor) until a little nonsense showed up in the final few seconds.
• I mentioned Joakim Ryan went the entire Vegas series without being on the ice for an opponent’s goal. The streak ended on his first shift against Colorado. Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer once again limited Ryan’s ice time, this time to just over seven minutes. Dylan Gambrell made his NHL playoff debut, but didn’t play much after committing his penalty, finishing with just six minutes of ice time. On the flip side, Burns played over 27 minutes in this game, meaning he’s been on the ice for nearly 110 minutes in three games played over a five-day span this week.
• The Avs had a goal overturned, but this one came without any controversy. Rantanen kicked the puck in the net and though a goal was awarded, he didn’t celebrate, making it clear what was coming next. The official review was among the shortest I’ve seen. Rantanen was terrific on the play, except for the finish. He had his share of moments during the game. His terrific pass led the second Avs goal and he was the player victimized by Labanc’s move for the Sharks third goal.
• With Sharks’ captain Joe Pavelski out of the lineup, the Sharks added the ‘A’ to Brent Burns sweater.
ZEKE is a native of the DC area where he witnessed the birth of the Capitals franchise. After graduating from Cornell University, which had seen hockey glory before he arrived, he moved west to San Jose. There he witnessed the birth of the Sharks franchise. His wait to witness a Championship from any of these teams finally ended in 2018.