Game 4 between the Predators and Sharks started at 8:10 p.m. Thursday evening. Nearly five hours later, at 1:04 a.m. on Friday morning, Mike Fisher scored what may be the biggest goal of his career and the most important goal in Nashville Predators history.
With little less than nine minutes remaining in the third overtime of Game 4, Fisher cut to the front of the Sharks net as Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm let go a shot from the top of the circles. San Jose netminder Martin Jones made the initial stop but the rebound fell to Fisher's feet. He picked up the puck, took one extra stride, slid the puck behind Jones and into an empty net. Fisher’s goal, which came 111:12 of game time after puck drop, gave the Predators the 4-3 victory to end the longest game in franchise history and the longest game of these 2016 playoffs.
Years from now, it’ll be Fisher’s goal that’s best remembered, but the goaltending duel between Jones and Predators netminder Pekka Rinne was one for the ages. That’s not often the case in a contest that sees seven total goals, but the goaltenders combined to turn aside 80 shots in the marathon game. And in overtime, when it mattered most, both Jones and Rinne turned in game-saving stops.
Rinne’s biggest stop came in the second overtime when Sharks center Joe Thornton laid a perfect pass to Tomas Hertl, but he was robbed by Rinne, who attacked the puck and gave the Sharks winger nothing to shoot at. For Jones, there’s no doubt his biggest stop came when he turned aside Colin Wilson’s breakaway opportunity in the third overtime. And while the game — with its seven goals and what felt like dozens of huge saves and narrow-misses — will be one of the lasting memories of the 2016 post-season, there are those who believe the game never should have gotten to triple overtime.
In the first extra frame, the Sharks broke away on a partial 2-on-1 break when Thornton made a nice feed to Hertl. Rinne stopped Hertl’s attempt, but the puck floated into the air, was batted down by Joe Pavelski, who was bumped and bowled into Rinne. Pavelski was down on top of the Predators netminder, but he knocked the puck home. The goal was immediately waved off, but the play went to a lengthy review. Per the NHL, it was “confirmed that (Pavelski) made incidental contact with (Rinne) before the puck crossed the goal line, preventing Rinne from doing his job in the crease.” No goal.
With that, play continued. The next 12:34 passed without either team breaking the tie, and the first overtime turned into the second, the second turned into the third, and 43:46 after Pavelski’s goal was wiped out, Fisher found the back of the net.
Beyond the fact that the win will be an everlasting moment for the franchise, the importance of Nashville's Game 4 victory goes well beyond the fact it came in a thrilling triple overtime game. Not only would a Game 4 loss have meant the Predators were heading into enemy territory facing elimination, Nashville would have had to try to steal a victory from the Sharks following a soul-crushing defeat in triple overtime on home ice.
Instead, after dropping the first two games of the series, Nashville now heads back to San Jose with the series tied 2-2. And as hard as it may sound, both teams will have to forget about this game in a hurry, recover and prepare for a huge Game 5 on Saturday night in a series that now comes down to which team can take two of the next three.