It was there for the taking. All the Sharks had to do was defeat a mediocre Nashville Predators team playing the second half of a back-to-back with their backup goaltender in net and San Jose would once again sit atop the Pacific Division standings, setting up a high-stakes showdown with Anaheim on Wednesday night. And, at least for the second half of the first period during which they dictated play, it looked like the Sharks might pull it off.
But a terrible middle frame, perhaps one of the team's worst twenty-minute segments of the season, was enough to give the Sharks an untimely loss. I'd rather not relive the second period during which everything fell apart but since this is technically a recap of the game's events, I suppose I have to. San Jose generated a whopping zero even-strength scoring chances in that period while yielding five to the Predators, three of which beat Antti Niemi. They did have two chances to score on the power play, both off the stick of Brent Burns, but his inability to capitalize and the power play units' inability to generate anything else of note was an issue as Nashville forward Patric Hornqvist struck at the other end in the immediate aftermath of both failed opportunities.
The first came as Brad Stuart wisely abandoned Hornqivst at the front of the net, instead opting to chase Matt Cullen who was already guarded by Logan Couture and whose initial shot Niemi wasn't able to control, allowing an unchecked Hornqvist to tap in the rebound. Hornqvist's second goal was the result of Brent Burns, playing defense after the conclusion of a power play, left him wide open in the middle of the slot to cash in a one-time pass from Nick Spaling. Roman Josi staked the Predators to a 3-0 lead by cutting to the net on Jason Demers and firing a backhander past Niemi.
The end result is that the Sharks now have just a 6% chance of winning the division. They'll need to run the table and hope Anaheim loses two of their four remaining games aside from Wednesday's contest in order to capture the pennant. For all intents and purposes, it's time to dust off your Dustin Brown effigies, rehearse your best dry island jokes and get #BeatLA trending on Twitter because the Sharks are facing the Kings in round one.
- You could point to the 19-7 shot advantage the Sharks held in the third period and say they did a great job to mount a comeback, and it's true that they probably deserved at least a couple of goals with all the chances they generated, but they didn't behave all that differently from any team down 3-0 in the third. Teams nursing multi-goal leads late in a game tend to resort to safe plays and cede territory; the Predators in particular get outshot by a wide margin when leading. Ultimately, the Sharks just weren't good enough tonight when the score was close and the game within reach.
- The frustration of blowing a golden opportunity to surpass Anaheim presumably boiled over in Joe Thornton late in the third and Angry Joe erupted from within. I wouldn't mind seeing more of this in the playoffs (GIF via Steph):
- I'm beating a dead horse at this point but the bottom six, and in particular the third line, was once again largely useless in a game where the Sharks could have used an offensive boost (or at least a few shifts in the offensive zone) from someone other than their big guns. Maybe losing 3-0 to the Predators and possibly getting Raffi Torres back for Wednesday's game will be enough to convince the coaching staff James Sheppard isn't the answer at third-line center. If it isn't, at least they'll have a long summer during which to reconsider shortly.