1st Period: The Preds come out hitting everything in sight, some of it pretty reckless, and eventually get whistled on a cheap Boarding call to Peter Forsberg (he was side-by-side with a Shark and hit him shoulder-to-shoulder). Apparently Nashville coach Barry Trotz has been reading my posts on the message boards, as he gets Paul Kariya out there for a bit of shorthanded duty. He craftily sneaks PK out there late in the penalty kill, where his speed could potentially catch a defenseman flat-footed and lead to an offensive chance.
The Sharks take a 1-0 lead on a great effort by Clowe to tap in a rebound, but by and large things don't look so bad. Tomas Vokoun looks very sharp.
During the intermission, Terry Crisp diagrams the exact play I had been thinking about earlier - Alexander Radulov dropped a pass to Shea Weber for a point shot, and Weber buried it straight into Nabokov, despite having teammates off to either side of the net. A hard (shot-like) pass wide of the net would have created a much better scoring chance.
2nd Period: Nice goals by Jason Arnott (tapping in a power play rebound) and Vernon Fiddler (deftly kicking a Forsberg pass over to his stick for a high wrister) put the Preds up 2-1, and have the fans believing. The physical game has pretty much disappeared for Nashville, which is probably a good thing as they focus more on their style of play.
2nd Period, 2-1 Nashville, 5:03 remaining: Here comes the very definition of a stupid, undisciplined play, which has led to so much difficulty for Nashville in this series. Scott Nichol, who previously showed good hustle in drawing a penalty earlier in the period, retaliates against Christian Erhoff with a spear to the midsection after getting dumped while coming out from behind the net, and gets whistled for a Major and a Game Misconduct. He did it right in front of the referee, and that was a completely legitimate call. While the local broadcast team thought Erhoff got a minor for diving, they only gave him a penalty for the initial dump of Nichol. Those Sharks do seem to go down like a Jenga puzzle and pop back up into the action*, but it was a stupid play by Nichol. Naturally, karma dictates that the Sharks tie the game at 2-2 during the resulting 3 minute major.
3rd Period: As the clock ticks down, so does the crowd volume. The pressure of the situation starts becoming clear. Arnott feeds J.P. Dumont right in the slot at 11:06, but Nabokov comes out to the top of his crease and shuts down the angle. After mystifying offsetting minors to Ryan Suter and Curtis Brown, Nashville gets a 4-on-3 power play after a trip by Kyle McLaren. All this open ice has to favor the quick-skating Predators.
No dice on the PP for Nashville, and the clock winds down below the seven-minute mark. It's now to the ponit where every rush up the ice carries either hope or trepidation, depending on which way it goes...
4:21 3rd: Patrick Marleau sticks a dagger in Nashville hearts to give San Jose a 3-2 lead, as Joe Thornton feeds him from behind the net, with the Preds leaving the Sharks captain WIDE open just a couple feet off the top of the crease. A horrible breakdown...
The final few minutes feature the fruitless mad scramble by Nashville, but it's not enough and the Preds finish their season all too early after another five game loss to San Jose. There will be plenty of debate as to whether a coaching change is needed to help this team move forward, but that's the sort of question that should wait for another day. The sting of disappointment makes you wanna sweep all the goats out, but in retrospect, you'd have to say that the Predators have taken another step in the right direction this year. Granted, it was a baby-step, and more was expected, but unless a big-name candidate is out there to take the reins, it may be worth sticking with the same, steady-handed regime.
Personally, my Predators goats would have to be Paul Kariya (basically invisible), David Legwand (virtually no offensive production), Marek Zidlicky (horrible play in Game One to lose it), and Scott Nichol (for that idiotic spear that allowed the Sharks to get back in it). Coach Trotz also failed to instill a sense of discipline, as penalties constantly sapped momentum, despite excellent penalty killing. The defense seemed to lack any physical presence, and I'm surprised that Vitaly Vishnevski failed to crack the lineup for a single game. Once the Sharks got their cycle rolling in the offensive zone, all the Preds could do was try and outskate them to a loose puck to get the clear, rather than stop the forwards in their tracks and generate a turnover.
On the positive side, Tomas Vokoun played generally well enough to win, Alexander Radulov showed great promise, and the tandem of Jason Arnott and J.P. Dumont were very effective at different points.
As for Forsberg, I thought he played as well as expected, but it's probably unrealistic to expect him to re-sign with Nashville as they face so many other free agents they'll need to look at over the summer. Either way, I would expect GM David Poile to make some drastic changes this offseason. The Predators missed a golden opportunity to take their franchise to the next level this season - with three more home playoff sellouts, they would have exceeded the average home attendance mark in their arena lease, and that would have eliminated all the relocation talk that has been out in the media this season. Instead, they face another uphill battle to build a corporate fan base in Nashville. People were getting excited about this team and would have been ready to jump on the bandwagon, but now we're left with talk-radio grumbling that will last about two days before the local media focus shifts to the NFL draft. This one's a bitter pill to swallow for the numerous, and rabid hockey fans here in Middle Tennessee.
*I must say that in three decades of watching playoff hockey, I've never seen a team milk the refs for calls like these San Jose Sharks. It does appear that they've been instructed to lie prone on the ice when the opportunity arises.