Milan Michalek and Ryane Clowe scored second-period goals to lead San Jose to a 3-1 win over Nashville in Game 3 of their first-round playoff series Monday night. Captain Patrick Marleau scored the clinching goal with 4:26 to play and Evgeni Nabokov made 19 saves as the Sharks took 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. Game 4 is Wednesday night at the Shark Tank, with Game 5 back in Nashville, Tenn., on Friday.
After splitting two fight-filled games in Nashville amid mutual accusations of dirty play, the two teams were more mellow Monday night. While the Sharks’ vaunted power play is just 1-for-18 against Nashville, hard work turned Game 3 in their favour in an 18-shot second period.
Ryan Suter scored his first NHL playoff goal for the Predators, who still haven’t won a road playoff game in six tries over three seasons. Tomas Vokoun stopped 38 shots in another solid performance.
The teams still played a physical game: Nashville winger Martin Erat left the ice in the second after receiving a hard hit, but the team didn’t immediately announce his condition. Michalek then left the ice with 2½ minutes left after Jason Arnott’s stick apparently got underneath his visor.
The teams began this rematch of last season’s first-round series with two entertaining games in Nashville. San Jose won the opener in double overtime, while the Predators replied with a convincing win in Game 2 – but the clubs’ collective skill was overshadowed by nasty hits and physical play culminating in a final-minute brawl Friday night.
Steve Bernier was back in the Sharks’ lineup after leaving Game 2 following a blindside hit by rookie forward Alexander Radulov, who was suspended for the Predators’ first game in San Jose. Scott Hartnell got the series’ bad feelings started in Game 1 with a knee-to-knee hit on Jonathan Cheechoo, though Hartnell said it was unintentional.
San Jose had its usual frenzied sellout crowd at the Shark Tank, booing Hartnell each time he touched the puck – but early on, Nashville countered the Sharks’ emotion with meticulous defence. The Predators also scored the only first-period goal when Suter hit an open net after cross-ice passes by David Legwand and J.P. Dumont.
The Sharks’ power play failed six times in the first two periods. San Jose had the NHL’s second-best power play during the regular season, with Joe Thornton setting up his teammates with 44 of his league-best 92 assists.
But San Jose tied it midway through the second when Michalek tipped Craig Rivet’s long, low shot from the point, somehow eluding Vokoun.
The Sharks’ power play flopped again moments later – but when Paul Kariya left the penalty box and skated to his bench instead of joining the Predators’ defence, Clowe was unchecked when he scored his second goal of the playoffs.
Nashville stayed close by aggressively killing off a 79-second two-man advantage for the Sharks, but couldn’t generate much offence of its own despite long, exhausting shifts for Peter Forsberg and Kariya.
Marleau all but finished it off when he tipped home Bill Guerin’s shot in front late in the third period.
Notes: The series is the first opening-round playoff matchup between two of the NHL’s top five regular-season teams since 1990. Nashville finished third overall with 110 points, while San Jose was fifth with 107. … The Sharks held a pre-game moment of silence for goaltending coach Warren Strelow, who died last week. The players are wearing a patch with Strelow’s initials during the series. … Suter is the nephew of former Sharks D Gary Suter.