4/18 WCQF Game 4: SHARKS 3, nashville 2
And that, ladies and gentleman, is how you hold home ice. Score some hard nosed goals, make some big time defensive plays, have a goalie steal some shots he has no business stopping, and feed off the energy of 17,000 crazies wearing the same color shirts that you are, and presto, two crucial wins at home against a very good opponent. Last game taught us to screen the goalie to get tip-ins, last night was a showcase of crashing the net. In a game with 5 goals, 4 of them were scored by a guy with the puck in about as close as one can get.
Just as in Game 3, Game 4 began on a more solemn note, as the Sharks honored one of their own. Gaetan Duschene, a former Shark, passed away earlier this week while at the gym exercising. The Duke was a big part of the Sharks success in '94, during their playoff run that eventually succumbed to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 7th game of the second round.
Once underway, the Sharks carried out the same gameplan seen just two days earlier, hit, grind, and no slacking. Their hard work paid off early, as just 3:29 into the game, Milan Michalek  capped a series of scoring chances when he finally whacked home a loose puck during a front-of-the-net scramble (Joe Thornton, Jonathan Cheechoo).
Mark Bell, who spent most of the year on the ice, found himself in the press box again as Joe Pavelski played yet again in his spot. The move paid off, as Pavelski , using Greg Zanon as a screen, scored the only non-net crashing goal of the night, when he rocketed a shot past Zanon, and past the screened Tomas Vokoun, giving the Sharks a 2-0 lead (McLaren, Hannan). Shortly after Pavelski stretched the lead to two, Jason Arnott's net crashing (told you it was a showcase) paid off, as a perfectly timed J.P Dumont pass from behind the net found Arnott's stick, which promptly propelled the puck to the back of the net. With the lead back at one, the Sharks got back to work, striking again, about 10 minutes later. A scramble in front and behind the net saw Michalek  throw a puck in front of the net that, rather than bouncing off the stick of Cheechoo (who was crashing the net), found the skate blade of Predator defenseman Kimmo Timonen, and past Vokoun (Thornton, Cheechoo).
The game remained 3-1 until the desperate, waning moments of the game. With about 3 and a half minutes remaining, and the Predators already on the powerplay, Vokoun was pulled in favor of the extra attacker. Just 20 seconds after that, Scott Hartnell scored (when he, you guessed it), bringing the Predators back within one. Some great defensive work by the Sharks helped them clamp down on the lead, much to the delight of the 17,496 in attendance. Evgeni Nabokov stood tall (and stretched wide) all night, making 23 saves.
Before the playoffs began, you'd have been hard pressed to get me to believe that either team, San Jose or Nashville, would be up 3 games to 1 after the first four games. But yet, here we stand, having seen four contests in this best of seven series, and the Sharks have the commanding 3-1 lead. While it's very mathematically unlikely that the Sharks will lose this series, the games are played on ice, rather than paper, for exactly that reason.
It is this that has me, as a Sharks fan, just a tad worried. Too many times before have we seen the Sharks take an overmatched opponent lightly, and it's always come back to bite them. For those keeping score at home, you will recall, just last year we saw such a feat. The Sharks played big against the Edmonton Oilers in Games 1 and 2, holding their home ice. But when the series shifted to Alberta, a Triple OT game turned the tide of the series, as it was the first of four heartbreaking losses to the Oilers, and a disappointing end to an otherwise bright potential post-season run.
So, this series against the Predators may be 3-1 in favor of the Sharks, but it is only 3-1 in favor of the Sharks. 3 games get you nowhere, as it is the 4th one that is the most important. This Predator squad was tied with the Sharks for the most wins in the West in the regular season (51), and I'd be very surprised if we don't see why that was in Game 5.
Speaking of Game 5, Friday night brings the prospect of elimination to the forefront, and the Predators are teetering over the edge of it (6:00 pm Pacific). Tonight is the first in a series of 3 consecutive "Win or go home" contests for the Predators, who would get the advantage of playing 2 of 3 at home. In the Sharks locker room, despite being up 3-1, the mentality should be exactly the same. Having the Predators reeling from two games in which their offense was suffocated, desperation will be at the top of the Nashville gameplan tonight, as they now have absolutely nothing to lose. Although the Sharks are up 3-1, people and teams can do scary things when they are desperate, and that has me excited and worried at the same time. Here's to tomorrow's post reporting the good news (from the Teal POV).
GO SHARKS (Get ready for some HNIMC) (Hockey Night In Music City)