It was probably the best thing the San Jose Sharks could have hoped for. They didn’t play anywhere near their best. Yet, they won anyway.
The Sharks became the only team to take a 2-0 series lead in the second round when they edged the Nashville Predators 3-2 on Sunday night. They were outshot 39-25 by the desperate visitors, but managed to hang in before captain Joe Pavelski netted a crucial go-ahead goal at 17:20 of the third period.
As one of the NHL’s chronic underachievers over the past decade, the Sharks have may have lost games like this in previous years. During this post-season, however, they’ve displayed an ability to shake off poor stretches within games.
They avoided a collapse in Game 4 of their first-round series against the Los Angeles Kings as a three-goal advantage turned into a narrow 3-2 victory. They rebounded after blowing a 3-0 lead in Game 5, closing out the Kings with a 6-3 win. And they trailed 1-0 heading into the third period in the series opener against Nashville on Friday before netting five goals in the frame.
The Sharks have won six of seven games in the playoffs so far, the best clip of any team.
As usual, it was the team’s core players that led the way on Sunday.
Center Logan Couture deposited a loose puck off a point shot from Brent Burns to give the Sharks the game’s first goal in the second period. It was Couture’s fourth goal of the playoffs and Burns’ team-leading 11th point.
Predators defenseman Mattias Ekholm tied the game 12:56 into the third period and overtime was looming. But Pavelski shoved in a rebound chance with 2:40 left in regulation to restore the Sharks’ lead. It was the captain’s sixth goal of the playoffs, tying him with New York Islanders center John Tavares and Tampa Bay Lightning right winger Nikita Kucherov for top spot overall. The rush that led to the goal, and the pass that started it, was made by Joe Thornton – arguably the Sharks’ best player this season.
Thornton added an empty-net goal prior to Predators center Ryan Johansen rounding out the scoring in the dying seconds.
Martin Jones made 37 saves in the San Jose net, while Pekka Rinne allowed two goals on 24 shots.
It wasn’t pretty, but the Sharks found a way. For a team looking to get to its first Western Conference final since 2011 and its first Stanley Cup final ever, winning ugly will suffice. Just imagine how good the Sharks will look when they’re really firing on all cylinders.