SAN JOSE, Calif. – Patrick Marleau and Jonathan Cheechoo are making up for their regular-season troubles with some clutch post-season play, which has the San Jose Sharks one win away from a fourth straight trip to the second round of the playoffs.
Marleau scored the tiebreaking goal late in the second period and Cheechoo added two goals in the third that sent the Sharks to a 4-3 victory over the Flames on Thursday night and a 3-2 lead in their first-round series.
“It’s just nice to contribute,” said Cheechoo, whose 23 regular-season goals were his fewest since his rookie year in 2002-03. “In the post-season, everybody has to contribute in their own way, whether it be on the scoresheet or defensively blocking a shot. Whatever it may be, it’s time to lay all the cards down.”
Joe Pavelski also scored and Evgeni Nabokov made 33 saves for the Sharks, who can wrap the series up by winning Game 6 in Calgary on Sunday. The series would return to the Shark Tank, if necessary, for Game 7 next Tuesday.
“You’re probably not going to win too many series if you don’t string at least a couple together,” Marleau said. “We were fortunate to get one tonight. The next one is going to be the toughest.”
The Sharks hoped to pick up where they left off when they scored two goals in the final five minutes to win Game 4 in Calgary to even the series.
But they were outplayed early, falling behind 1-0 when Jarome Iginla scored on a two-man advantage early in the second period. Nabokov made sure the deficit wasn’t worse, turning aside 26 shots in the first two periods after facing only 10 in Game 4.
“That was a lot better tonight than the last game,” Iginla said. “Unfortunately we didn’t get it done tonight, but we’re going to do more of the same and go regroup and just get ready for Game 6. We really believe we can get Game 6 and we come back here for Game 7.”
Nabokov’s early play gave the Sharks’ skaters time to find their stride, and they outplayed the Flames for the second half of the game. Marleau drew a hooking penalty against Stephane Yelle that set up Pavelski’s tying power-play goal midway through the second period against Miikka Kiprusoff.
Marleau then came through himself when he took a pass from Joe Thornton and beat Kiprusoff with a wrist shot into the top of the net. That made it 2-1 with 1:53 remaining in the second period. That was Marleau’s 22 second postseason goal since the 2004 playoffs, one behind Iginla for most in the NHL in that period.
“Patty was doing everything: forechecking, backchecking, winning faceoffs,” coach Ron Wilson said. “He scored a great goal that gave us a chance to breathe a bit going into the third period. … Patty’s leading by example. You can’t ask for anything more.”
Marleau’s leadership and big-game ability were questioned when he went scoreless with a minus-5 rating in the Sharks’ six-game second-round loss to Detroit a year ago. He struggled through the first half of the regular season and finished with his fewest goals in eight years.
The Sharks captain has answered those questions this post-season, with the toughness he showed bouncing back from a crushing hit by Calgary’s Cory Sarich in Game 3, and the clutch play that gave the Sharks their first lead in the series.
“There were a lot of questions whether he could come back after the hit,” Pavelski said. “But he stood up right after and wanted to get right back on the ice. That’s our leader. He knew we need Patty at his best and he’s been at his best. He’s scoring big goals, setting up big goals.”
Cheechoo’s two goals in the third put it away, with his second coming off a nice pass from Marleau on a two-on-one break that made it 4-1 at the 8:22 mark.
Daymond Langkow scored nine seconds into a power-play about a minute later for Calgary and David Moss added a goal with 1:17 to play. But this three-goal deficit was too much for the Flames to overcome.
They had done it once already in the series, after falling behind 3-0 early in Game 3. But the series that seemed in their control up until the final minutes of Game 4 is now slipping away. Calgary hasn’t won a playoff series since beating the Sharks in the Western Conference finals in 2004.
“It’s our turn to come back in the series,” coach Mike Keenan said. “We have to come back and tie it and at the same time face elimination.”
The Flames responded to their Game 4 loss by putting one more shot on goal (11) in the first period than they had in the entire game Tuesday. Calgary’s best scoring chance came when Iginla skated in on a two-on-one and fired a shot that Nabokov deflected and then swept off the goal line with his stick after it had trickled past him.
Notes: Kiprusoff made 22 saves. … Dion Phaneuf had been on the ice for seven straight Sharks goals before Marleau’s tally. … Calgary D Anders Eriksson got his first action of the postseason, replacing David Hale in the lineup.