Stifling, smothering, suffocating.
Call it what you will, as there's no doubt San Jose picked up their lunch pails on the way to HP Pavilion tonight and came prepared to turn in a phenomenal defensive effort. The Sharks held the Bruins to 9 shots in the first forty minutes of the game, kept shots to the outside all night, and proceeded to out battle the Stanley Cup champions in the third period even when holding a two goal lead.
Credit San Jose's defenseman for retrieving dump ins with absolute aplomb-- there was rarely a case when the Bruins forecheck could get on top of them, and when it did, excellent puck support from the forwards allowed San Jose to pass and skate their way out of trouble before Boston's second wave made an impact.
It's only fitting that two of San Jose's best defensive forwards, Joe Pavelski and Daniel Winnik, tallied goals for the Sharks in their 2-0 victory.
The Sharks struck following a sloppy pair of clears from the Bruins that came in succession. Joe Thornton picked the first pass off when a Boston defender tried to clear one up the center of the ice, but a nice old school kick save from Tim Thomas stymied the opportunity. Boston tried their luck with a second clear up the middle, but yet again San Jose kept the play alive when Marc-Edouard Vlasic stuck his stick out at the blueline.
Vlasic swung the pass around to Dan Boyle who proceeded to whip it down to Joe Thornton behind the net. Thornton's centering pass found Patrick Marleau in front of the net where he jammed one on net that Thomas managed to save. Joe Pavelski capitalized on the ensuing rebound however, putting the puck past Thomas to give San Jose an early 1-0 lead 3:57 into the game.
San Jose controlled the vast majority of the first period, giving up very little in the way of scoring opportunities to an opposing team that seemed flat coming out of the gates. Boston was a mess in their own zone for nearly the entire twenty minutes, with San Jose's forecheck contributing to the Bruins difficulties breaking out of the zone.
The second period looked almost exactly like the first as Boston continued to struggle and San Jose continued to carry the play. Tim Thomas had a pair of robberies during the middle of the frame, stoning Ryane Clowe in the low slot after Martin Havlat fed him a pass from behind the net. He followed that up with another big stop on the same shift when Logan Couture delivered a sweet saucer to Martin Havlat that Thomas managed to slide post to post on for the save.
San Jose got into a tiny little (teensy weensy) bit of trouble in the last few minutes when the game opened up with some end to end rushes, but by and large they put the brakes on before things got out of hand and settled back into their dominating ways.
Things got off to a great start for San Jose early in the third period when Andrew Desjardins picked the pocket of a Bruins forward in the defensive zone and led the rush up the ice. After allowing the Bruins backcheckers to get deep, Desjardins fed one across the zone to the waiting stick of Daniel Winnik who proceeded to roof an off angle shot into the twine and give San Jose a 2-0 lead.
The Bruins managed to get a breathe of fresh air late in the third period when getting a pair of opportunities in succession after a shot to the net sent Niemi scrambling in the crease. With Niemi prone on the ice Zdeno Chara would wrist one from behind the end line that deflected off Niemi's pads to cut the lead in half.
At the end of the night it wouldn't matter.
It was but a single blemish on a night filled with excellent defensive play and rugged work in the corners. San Jose, who looked lost against Anaheim and Los Angeles early in the week, truly delivered tonight in a game they needed to have.