You wouldn't have been blamed for expecting a relatively muted finish to the Sharks' three-game Eastern Conference road trip after the first two contests included a low-scoring shootout win over the Capitals and a mostly uneventful 3-0 shutout of the Panthers. Today's game against Tampa Bay, however, turned out to be as far removed from those previous efforts as possible, aside from the fact that the Sharks once again emerged victorious. Four goals by Lightning captain Martin St. Louis, including a natural hat trick that encased the final three, were no match for Joe Pavelski scoring three consecutive goals of his own in tandem with tallies by Matt Nieto and Patrick Marleau as the Sharks beat the Bolts 5-4.
At least for the first two periods, this was one of the most exciting games San Jose has been involved in all season as both clubs largely eschewed defense in favor of firewagon, free-flowing hockey with permissive neutral zone coverage and turnovers fueling end-to-end action both ways. Despite a quick start by Tampa Bay in which they generated the first three scoring chances of the game off San Jose giveaways, Matt Nieto opened the scoring midway through the first period. St. Louis answered with the first of his four goals, converting a one-time pass through the box from Tyler Johnson on a power play. Nieto was once again involved in the play on which the Sharks regained the lead as he set up Marleau for a shot from the left circle that beat a screened Ben Bishop.
That's about when all hell broke loose. A little under 16 minutes into the game, St. Louis streaked off the Lightning bench, grabbed a stretch pass then closed in on Antti Niemi on a breakaway. The San Jose netminder stopped the initial attempt but Brad Stuart inadvertently helped guide the resulting loose puck past him to tie the score for Tampa. Stuart was once again involved in the goal that gave St. Louis a hat trick, deflecting a centering pass by the Bolts' J.T. Brown off his defense partner Justin Braun and into the net. St. Louis' fourth goal came on another power play, and unfortunately wasn't followed up with a Thornton-esque celebration.
Down two goals in the second period, the Sharks set up shop in the Lightning end for a good minute, drawing a minor in the process, then scoring on the delayed penalty as Tyler Kennedy set up Joe Pavelski for a cross-ice one-timer. Pavelski notched his second on a power play, scoring from a prone position after being decked to the ice by Victor Hedman. He completed the natural hat trick (although he wouldn't be credited with it until partway through the third) by deflecting a Matt Irwin point shot past Bishop to give the Sharks their one-goal lead of the hockey game, this time one they would not relinquish.
Seven goals between two players. Not a bad game for entertainment, at least prior to the third period in which the Sharks did a solid job of polishing their neutral zone play and repeatedly shutting the Bolts down before they had the opportunity to generate the types of chances that came easily to them in the first forty. Todd McLellan will appreciate his team's effort over those final twenty minutes, less so their erratic, sloppy, turnover-riddled yet wildly captivating performance earlier in the game. I'm guessing fans will be pretty satisfied with all of it.
- Great to see Pavelski get credited for that third goal and, as a result, his first career hat trick after coming oh-so-close on countless previous occasions (not the least of which was that game against the Red Wings last Thursday). But I couldn't help but feel bad for him that it came in the most anticlimactic fashion imaginable.
- This game was all about the awkward hat trick to the extent that I'm surprised Marleau didn't get into the act with two more goals of his own. Lightning fans had to wait until the second stoppage after St. Louis' third goal to litter the ice with hats since no one was quite sure who would get credit.
- Speaking of Marleau, his line with Nieto and Tommy Wingels was the Sharks' best in this game despite the Pavelski hat trick. They cooled off a bit offensively after a spectacular first period in that regard, but throughout the contest were the only Sharks line capable of neutralizing the red-hot St. Louis.
- Richard Panik didn't score for Tampa Bay, which is a good thing because I have no idea how I would have chosen between Dick Panik and Panik! At the Disco jokes.
- His possession numbers don't necessarily indicate it (mostly because Bracken Kearns isn't a NHL player and really shouldn't be on the third line) but Tyler Kennedy had a great game, capping a resurgent road trip for him. His speed, forechecking ability and offensive instincts over these past few games are reminiscent of when he was a valuable piece of the best team in the Eastern Conference for years. Hopefully this isn't a fluke and instead a sign he's finally settled into his new club.
FTF Three Stars
1st Star: Martin St. Louis
2nd Star: Joe Pavelski
3rd Star: Matt Nieto