Ryan Suter summed it up best in his post game remarks when he said that the effort put forth by the Predators against the Sharks would beat most teams in the NHL. Unfortunately, the effort the Predators brought to the ice was not quite enough as the Sharks edged the Preds by a 4-3 margin.
In a game where the two teams played skate to skate and battled all night, it was an unnecessary and egregious boarding penalty by Dan Hamhuis that resulted in a third period San Jose power play that doomed the Predator effort. Danny Heatley was able to convert the power play for his second goal of the night and the margin of victory for the Sharks.
The Predators played the Sharks with energy and aggressiveness, and they had every chance to win the game. On three different occasions, the Predators held one goal leads, and challenged for more. Evgeni Nabokov made some amazing saves that kept the Preds from extending their lead and kept the Sharks within striking distance. He was able to rob Jason Arnott and Patric Hornqvist in close, and although the Predators did an excellent job of putting traffic in front of him, they could not get enough pucks past him for the win.
J.P. Dumont, recently a resident of Barry Trotz's doghouse, opened the scoring for the Predators as he gathered in a rebound and tapped the puck past a sprawling Nabokov at 1:39 of the first. J.P.'s goal was a result of crashing the net after Martin Erat skated the puck out of the corner and put a shot on net that Nabokov was unable to control.
San Jose tied it just :43 seconds later when Brad Staubitz was left alone at the side of the net and was able to put the puck in an open net after a nifty pass from Kent Huskins. The defense lost track of Staubitz, and that breakdown allowed the Sharks to tie the game. The remainder of the period saw some good rushes and opportunities by both teams, but Nabokov and Nashville net minder Pekka Rinne were equal to the task.
Dumont would strike again at 8:47 of the second period with the Predators on the power play. Cal O'Reilly got control of the puck and found Dumont in the low slot. He rifled a wrister over Nabokov's shoulder and the Preds again had a one goal lead. Welcome to the back of the net, J.P. You were missed.
Danny Heatley scored his first goal of the night on the power play to tie the game at 2. He sent a shot past a screened Rinne as Patric Marleau and Dan Hamhuis battled in front of the net. It was obvious from the replay that Rinne never saw the puck until it was past him.
The Predators once again took the lead at 17:35 of the second when Cal O'Reilly sprung Joel Ward with a nice lead pass to send him in on a breakaway. Ward fired a quick wrist shot that beat Nabokov stick side. Ward's play has been very strong of late and it's good for the Predators to see him getting on the scoresheet.
The Sharks tied the game at 19:36 of the second as Rinne was scrambling as the Sharks were buzzing the net. He went down to stop a shot, stopped a second that hit him in the back, but Rob Blake was able to fire the puck past a prone Rinne for the tying goal. Giving up a score late in the period, one had to wonder if the Predators would see their momentum slip away in the third.
The answer was no, as the Predators skated hard and generated several quality chances. However, they were unable to solve Nabokov. The momentum would swing back to the Sharks as Hamhuis was called for a boarding penalty on Kent Huskins. The painful thing about that penalty was that it occurred 200 feet away from our own goal as Hamhuis was in on the forecheck. This is a penalty that just cannot be taken, an undisciplined penalty that allowed the Sharks to go on the power play and score the eventual game winner by Heatley.
This was a game the Predators could have won. They brought it against the best team in the Western Conference. One bad play, one great save by the opposing goaltender, and instead of a win, they skated off the ice with a tough loss.
The lessons to be learned are this: you are good enough to play with and beat the best. When you bring this kind of effort, like Suter said, you will beat most teams that you play.
The other lesson is that dumb penalties will kill you. You are not good enough to survive the unnecessary penalties. Putting a great team like the Sharks on the power play late in the third period was flirting with disaster.
Oh yeah, one other lesson. When you have the lead, you have to fight to protect it and extend it. No problems with the effort at extending the lead. Tonight you shot the puck and generated quality chances. Nabokov stole one. But fight to protect those leads. They are precious and you worked too hard to get it. No stupid penalties that lead to power plays. No losing track of guys around the net.
Know that you can play with the best and that you can beat them. Take that knowledge with you when you go on the road for these last four games before the Olympic break. Know that these eight points are vital to your playoff chase.
Know that when you play with the heart and grit and effort that you did tonight, you will beat most teams that you play. And know that will put you in the playoffs.