The Western Conference second round series got underway yesterday, and we were reminded why you don’t really, really want to play seven games before moving on. Both the Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues, who took seven games to navigate out of the first round, looked pretty exhausted, resulting in the San Jose Sharks and Dallas Stars grabbing their first wins.
San Jose Sharks 5 – Nashville Predators 2
The first two periods of this games were, well, pretty much what you would have expected them to be. Nobody is better than the Nashville Predators at playing defensive hockey, as they rank towards the top of the league in suppressing shot attempts and they’re the best at stopping the other team from generating high danger chances, so low and behold, they carried a 1-0 lead into the third period after forty minutes of pretty dull, conservative hockey.
In the first two periods of the game, the Sharks certainly controlled the puck most of the time, collecting 52 shot attempts in all situations in comparison to Nashville’s 39, but the Predators kept San Jose to just nine high danger chances. But in the third period, once the Sharks got rolling (and the Predators got burnt out, however you decide to look at it), they completely kicked the door down. Tomas Hertl tied the game a couple minutes into the third with a power play goal, then Joel Ward gave the Sharks the lead a few minutes later. With just five minutes left in the game, Logan Couture extended the lead to two, and then San Jose added two empty netters, while the Preds managed to score one more to regain some validity.
Whelp, this is what running out of gas looks like.
— On The Forecheck (@OnTheForecheck) April 30, 2016
From Nashville’s perspective, they played their game well before they completely fizzled out about half way through the second period. They did a good job in the first half of the game keeping the Sharks to the outside and not allowing high danger chances, which was their forte this season. But since they played an intense Game 7 with the Ducks just the other day, it isn’t surprising they didn’t have as much gas as the Sharks did.
From the San Jose perspective, after taking a while to get themselves back into a groove, they played an excellent game. Also, a major key to the Sharks’ success over Nashville, who dominates at even strength, is their power play. Tonight, the Sharks scored the game tying and game winning goals on the power play, and the man advantage was also massive in completely shifting the momentum in their favour. It’s expected that the Predators will be able to shut them down at even strength, but with all the skill the Sharks have, and how good their power play is, if they’re going to win, it’ll be because of the man advantage.
So if Nashville is going to beat the Sharks, they’re going to have to keep it at even strength and stay out of the box. If that happens, they can more than likely shut down San Jose and grind out some tight, ugly wins.
Dallas Stars 2 – St. Louis Blues 1
So if we expected the Sharks and Predators series to be low scoring, I think we all expected the exact opposite from the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues. While we didn’t get much in the way of scoring in Game 1, these two teams combined for 74 shots in all situations, so had it not have been for two excellent goaltending performances (that isn’t something I expected to say with Kari Lehtonen involved in a game) then this could have looked like a playoff game from the 1980s.
In the first two periods, Dallas really controlled the play. They had 27 shot attempts in the first and 28 in the second, and they managed to fire 31 total shots at Brian Elliot, who can be credited for keeping the Blues in the game, as he only allowed one goal despite being completely peppered through the first forty minutes. In the third, though, St. Louis pushed back, controlling the possession game, and firing 15 shots on Lehtonen. They managed to tie it with just under ten minutes to go in the game, but the Stars answered back quickly, as Radek Faksa potted the eventual game winner with just under five minutes to go.
— Corey Hirsch (@CoreyHirsch) April 30, 2016
Overall, this was a pretty ugly game for the Blues. They certainly did come on in the third period after Dallas kind of shelled up, but they were completely lifeless in the first period. Had it not been for excellent play from Elliott, that game could have been over a lot quicker than it was, and if they throw out another effort like that, their series might be over with a lot quicker than originally expected.
3. Brian Elliott
If not for Elliott, the Blues could have very, very easily been blown out tonight. They were outshot 14-6 in the first period and 17-11 in the second period, but Elliott managed to keep the Blues within one goal all game. Obviously they were tired after edging out the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 7 the other day, but if they have another performance like the one they did yesterday, this isn’t going to be a long series.
2. Brent Burns
It was announced today that Brent Burns was one of the finalists for the Norris Trophy, and if you weren’t sure why, this game should have given you a very clear indication. Burns was the catalyst in just about every successful offensive sequence for the Sharks, as he was on the ice for 22 shot attempts for and just 14 against. Honestly, if they’re planning on handing out the Norris to somebody this year because they haven’t won yet, maybe they should give it to Burns.
1. Joel Ward
This guy always seems to elevate his game in the playoffs. He always manages to score huge goals in the playoffs, and tonight, he did it again. With under ten minutes to go in the third, Ward put the Sharks ahead 2-1 with a gorgeous goal in which he completely undressed Pekka Rinne. Even though it didn’t end up being the game winner technically, it really was the point that completely flipped the game in San Jose’s favour.
— #TurnUpInTeal (@SanJoseSharks) April 30, 2016