(photo: Dinur Blum)
In the final stretch of the 2014-15 regular season, every point and every game counts for the San Jose Sharks. Post trade deadline and prior to their matchup with the Nashville Predators Thursday night, the Sharks have been on a confident high, winning 4 of their last 5 games. Heading into their final game at home before a 7-game road trip so late in the season will test their confidence and ability to beat the odds as playoffs are on everyone’s minds.
Although both teams came out strong in the first with a shot of momentum with quick legs and lots of puck movement, there was no scoring. The Sharks were outshot the entire game, but never more so than in the first frame when Antti Niemi stopped 14 shots (compared to only 6 shots that Pekka Rinne faced). After two power plays in the first, the Sharks were finally able to capitalize on their third power play in the second period – a nifty backhand by Tomas Hertl. Chris Tierney got the primary assist, his first of two points on the night. The Predators pulled Rinne late in the third as the Sharks began their fifth power play, and with about a minute left, Tommy Wingels wristed one right into the empty net. Hertl got the secondary assist and second point of the night, making this his fifth multi-point game this season. Wingels’ goal was his first against Nashville in his five career games against the club, and his 14th of the season.
The Wingels – Hertl – Tierney line was the only line that produced on the scoresheet. Coach Todd McLellan reflected on this, noting that when the top line doesn’t produce, it is a chance for the other guys to step in and do their part to make an impact:
“That Tierney line, I thought, was our best line tonight. Our power play, our first group, which has been very strong all year, really struggled tonight. It was an opportunity for that second group to get out there and they got us the goal. It happened again on the empty netter, on the power play as well, so it was a great reward for those three.”
Along with those three, Niemi was absolutely stellar. He stopped 35 shots, which led to his fifth shutout of the season and 32nd of his career. He has now shut out the Predators twice in his career. “He’s been solid. That’s what we need. We play with a lot of confidence when he plays like that,” commented Joe Pavelski after the game.
Plus, the Sharks blocked 21 shots before they even reached their goaltender, indicative of how much pressure they were facing against this Nashville team. Defense was the Sharks’ biggest tool and Niemi was the main reason they were able to hold on and get the win.
Now the Sharks hit the road for 7 games and will take 5 wins in 6 games in hand, something to feel good about. With the roller coaster season this team has had, any and every win further enhances their confidence, which is what they need in this final 14-game stretch. They need to be solid now more than ever.