Even though Marleau and Thornton billed the evening's match as just another game, it was was a must win. Granted, the Sharks would not have been eliminated with a loss tonight, but a defeat at the hands of the Avalanche would have been difficult to recover from.
Without a doubt, tonight's historic win changed the course of the series, and may have saved the Sharks season.
There was a marked difference on the ice, and it started with the coach. After being foiled by the trap in the first game, McLellan quickly made significant adjustments to his strategy. In the Anaheim series last year, the coach had difficulty adjusting his tactics against a unexpectedly difficult foe. A year older, and a year wiser, he did not wait long to implement a new system tailored for a specific opponent. Instead of reiterating the company line of "playing our own game" the Sharks adjusted to Colorado. This not only helped to defeat the Av's neutral zone trap, but also put almost three times as many shots on Craig Anderson as Evgeni Nabokov.
This is not to say that Nabokov had a good game. In fact, this was easily his second worst game of the year. The only game where Evgeni was worse, was in his county's collapse against Canada in the 2010 Olympic games. But the Sharks did for Nabokov what Russia could not, they repeatedly pushed back against a Colorado team and responded to each goal with a goal of their own. Never in the Sharks history have they come back from a deficit five times, let alone in the playoffs. This isn't last year's Sharks. This is a different team, as the players have stated all season. The staff, and the fans, are starting to buy into that sentiment.
But this is not how the game started. The first goal was another fluke bounce off a Sharks player... and as Setoguchi stated after the game: "We're not getting any of the bounces." He was right, as the Sharks have been victimized by bad bounces in the first two games of the series. As Avs were celebrating their first goal, the boo's returned to the Sharks Tank and continues throughout the first period. With two minutes remaining, the Sharks went on a power play and Malhotra's timely goal brought the fans back into the game.
This is how the game would progress with the Avs scoring a goal, and the Sharks responding. With time running out, and the Avs ahead by one, Todd McLellan was forced to pull Nabokov for an extra player. With 30 second remaining, the Sharks entered the zone one more time. Heatley wasted no time shooting on the goal and Pavelski was nearby to tie the game once more and force another period of hockey. The puck barely left the Avs zone during the five minutes of overtime, and Setoguchi sealed the deal with a power play goal, as he redirected a shot from Ryane Clowe.
The continued pressure by the forwards is what made the biggest difference tonight. We were impressed with the play of impending RFA's Joe Pavelski and Devin Setoguchi . They were the best two players on the ice, pumping 15 shots on net between the two of them. It's fitting that these two scored the most important goals of the series to this point. Doug Wilson should make resigning these two players a priority in the offseason.
With the first line not contributing in the goal department (although they had four points between them), the onus was on the lower line players to get it done. Scott Nichol spent the majority of the overtime period on the ice. His play in the third and fourth frames was the reason that Doug Wilson replaced the popular Marcel Goc in the offseason. Besides him, Ortmeyer, and McGinn all had excellent games: while statistically not spending the most time on the ice, the play of this fourth line was the heartbeat of the Sharks for the entire match. McLellan had faith in the line; something he didn't have in his third and fourth units last season. The ability to deploy these forwards with confidence is what the coach will rely on for the remainder of the series and the playoffs.
Make no mistake, Nabokov will have to be better if the Sharks are to progress in the playoffs. This is just one win in a series of fifteen more needed for a Stanley Cup victory. However, there is a certain confidence that is gained by the win tonight. This quintuple comeback by the Sharks is something that was unexpected by anyone who has followed the team in the past.
Hopefully the Sharks continue to surprise everyone in the future.
Oddly enough, Ivano and TCY ended up having tickets in the same section (221). A few beers later, we decided to write the recap together. It was an epic game and an epic night. We hope Sunday is the same.