It happened. Prior to Game 3 of the Sharks-Predators series, I wrote about the Sharks’ good fortune in the playoffs up to that point, contrasting it with difficult moments in recent years:
They’ve been on the wrong end of injuries and ‘hockey happens’ in their years of Stanley Cup playoff frustration.
The Sharks have not yet had any of the puck luck that seemed to follow them in crucial moments of series in years past. There has been no Sharks goalie pushed into the net deep into the third period of a tie game. There has been no rim attempt that hit a stanchion in double overtime. There is no image of Joe Thornton bleeding profusely, while the double minor for a high stick went uncalled. No goalie is ripping through a series with a .950 save percentage against them.
While the crucial moment of Game 4 was technically none of the above, in spirit, it was the same core story with different details. In the wee hours of Friday morning in Nashville, the Predators tied the series at 2-2. Nashville never gets the chance to win the game without the help of a controversial ‘no goal’ call in overtime. Joe Pavelski’s potential game winner was waived off and a confusing review (as it seemed to be for one thing and wound up being about something else) upheld the result.
Every (neutral) ex-player analyst I've heard tonight said that Pavelski's goal should have counted.
— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) May 6, 2016
A Theme Returns
Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer took over this season for Todd McLellan. One of McLellan’s themes for the Sharks was ‘overcoming adversity’. Few teams win Cups without facing adversity along the way. Whether it is a key injury or a controversial game changing call, adversity happens. It is what you do with it that matters.
The Sharks handled adversity well in Game 4. They outplayed Nashville after the overturned play, though they would lose the hard-fought game.
On Saturday’s Game 5, both the Predators and Sharks entered unfamiliar territory. Both teams were unaccustomed to recovering from a triple-overtime game. The teams had a single day off between games, during which they took a 2,000 mile trip to San Jose. On Saturday, Nashville played its twelfth game in 23 days, with nearly enough overtime ice time to add another game’s worth of play. The Sharks took advantage and now have the upper hand in the series. In Game 5, the Sharks were the team winning battles and playing with confidence. One statistic told the story, San Jose was credited with 13 takeaways, Nashville just 2.
DeBoer’s long commitment to using four lines and three defense pairs paid dividends. The Sharks depth forwards proved challenging for Nashville, while the Sharks’ third pairing defensemen were the only Sharks to finish plus-2 on the game.
Game 4’s adversity forms the basis for defining this Sharks team. It can be the team which overcomes or the team which began the postseason in promising fashion, then disappears in the second round. Following the triple overtime loss, Game 5 was, in effect, the first game in a ‘best of three’ series to see who advances. In Game 5, the Sharks played as if Game 4’s adversity never happened. Which is a very good sign for San Jose.
The Pavelski call was the third time the Sharks had a potential goal taken away in the playoffs, neither of the other two calls made a difference in the outcome of the game. The first came early in the series against the Kings, the official quickly admitted it should have been a goal. The second came early in the series against Nashville, when the net was knocked off its moorings at the same time Melker Karlsson put the puck into the area where the front of the net usually is. Had the cage not been moved, Karlsson would have had his goal. Another ruling during the playoffs made this one an interesting call. Against the Wild, the Stars Antoine Roussel was awarded a goal on a play where the cage was clearly off its moorings.
I do not expect the Predators to go away easily. They have been tough in close games during the playoffs. In one-goal games (including those games which were one goal prior to a late empty net goal), the Predators are 5-1. Meanwhile, five of Nashville’s six losses are by three goals or more.