There were blown calls and questionable ones. There was a goal waved off and another upheld, both in controversial fashion. There was back and forth action, 111 minutes and 12 seconds filled with intensity that was every hockey fan’s dream and every Sharks and Predators fan’s nightmare. There were spectacular saves, shots ringing off the post, a three-overtime affair that was worth every second.
And in the end, as the goal horn sounded after Nashville’s Mike Fisher scored the game-winning goal at 1:03 a.m. Central Standard Time on Friday morning, there was just emptiness for the Sharks.
To be fair: the loser of a game that takes five hours and three extra sessions should feel empty — all the effort and sweat and toil spent for nothing. But for the Sharks, masters of creative ways to falter in the postseason, it seems especially cruel — cruel because instead of taking a commanding 3-1 series lead back to San Jose for a chance to earn their spot in hockey’s final four, they head home dragging, deflated and in a dogfight with a Predators’ team that has all the momentum.
Questionable Call Dooms Sharks
Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be. It just wouldn’t feel like a Sharks’ postseason if they just cakewalked through the first two rounds and zipped their way into the Western Conference Finals. A Sharks’ postseason is nerve-wracking, filled with pull-your-hair-out moments and four-letter words.
More than a few of those were uttered when Joe Pavelski thought he had won the game in the first overtime, pouncing on a rebound and tapping it into the net. But the referees waved it off, citing incidental contact as Pavelski was pushed into Pekka Rinne, preventing him from making the save. The counter-argument is clear: Pavelski was cross-checked from behind by Miikka Salomaki, with no way to keep his balance and avoid Rinne.
Every (neutral) ex-player analyst I've heard tonight said that Pavelski's goal should have counted.
— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) May 6, 2016
“The explanation,” Logan Couture told the Mercury News. “was that Pavs had time to stop. I’d like to know how you’re supposed to stop in a situation like that when someone is shoving you from behind.”
If the Sharks lose this series, that play, that shove, that non-goal will haunt Pavelski and the Sharks all summer. It’s as ambivalent as “incidental contact” can get — is it really “incidental contact” if a player is shoved into the goaltender by an opponent? Rinne was prevented from making the save, but it was at the fault of his own team.
Nonetheless, Pavelski had his game-winner stripped and the Sharks trudged on.
They had their chances. Tomas Hertl was robbed twice by Rinne in the second overtime, where the Sharks outshot the Predators 11-4. Early in the third period, Patrick Marleau’s wraparound attempt early in the third overtime missed an open net by inches. Two power play opportunities — the latter coming eight minutes into the third overtime — fell by the wayside.
Shortly afterwards, Martin Jones saved the game with a tremendous save on a breakaway by Colin Wilson, laying out and just squeezing the puck between his pads. Jones made 41 saves on the night, a welcome-to-the-playoffs game for the first-year starter.
But it was not enough. If Jones has a weakness, it’s with shots that are aimed high. It bit him in the end, as he gave up a fat rebound on a high shot from Mattias Ekholm from the point, and Fisher made him pay.
Game 5 Will Be Crucial
Fisher and the Predators might be signing the tunes of Carrie Underwood on the flight to San Jose, but the Sharks might want to crank up the Beatles’ “Yesterday.” Now, the Sharks face their first real adversity of the postseason, with the series turning on its axis within a few overtime sessions. If this is truly a different Sharks’ team, one that is resilient under pressure, then they will win Game 5 and head back to Nashville with a chance at the clincher and redemption.
There are no participation ribbons in hockey. The Sharks have learned that throughout their rough playoff experiences, and Thursday night served as another reminder that even when you play your heart out, even when you deserve to win — heck, even if you think you’ve won — it just doesn’t happen.
Will the Sharks take a stand and say, “No mas” to their playoff misfortune? Or is this the harbinger of another disappointing postseason exit?
Game 5 will go a long ways toward finding those answers, but what we know for sure is that it wouldn’t be a Sharks’ postseason without those questions being asked.
Eric is a journalism student at the University of Southern California and a sports editor at the Daily Trojan. He grew up in the Bay Area and has followed the Sharks since a young age. He served as a beat writer on the team for SFBay.ca during the 2014-2015 season. Previously, Eric has worked at FanSided and Bleacher Report.