There are three certainties in life-- death, taxes, and clutch goals from the sweet hands of Joe Pavelski.
As Douglas Murray carried the puck after receiving a nice touch from Ryane Clowe, the Sharks entered the offensive zone with three Avalanche players clogging the center of the ice. Murray attempted to chip the puck into the corner for San Jose to establish the cycle; instead it hit Colorado defenseman Kyle Cumiskey in the chest, and came fluttering down to land right next to the stick of Joe Pavelski.
It was a bounce the Sharks needed after a series of being victimized by the majority of them. And it was a bounce they wasted no time capitalizing on.
Pulling it back with the toe of his stick to change the angle, Pavelski used Avalanche defenseman Adam Foote as a screen and unleashed a mammoth wrist shot that beat Craig Anderson high glove side to settle the series score at two. As the Sharks bench emptied to celebrate in front of a silenced crowd at the Pepsi Center, the city of San Jose erupted 1,200 miles away, fears of an elimination game at HP Pavilion pacified for the time being.
Thursday is just around the corner. Buckle up.
At the drop of the puck Paul Stastny took a high-sticking penalty to put the Sharks struggling power play unit to the test right out of the gate. Winding up from the top of the left circle, Dan Boyle avenged the ghosts of game three by ripping a howitzer past Craig Anderson to give San Jose their first lead of the series.
It was poetic justice for a player who has logged heroic minutes for San Jose throughout the course of the year, a player that felt his share of pain following the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the Sharks loss in game three. The demons had been laid to rest.
Although the Sharks came out flying at the beginning of the first period, the tilt seemed to even out as the game progressed and saw both goaltenders make some key stops along the way. Evgeni Nabokov was as good as he needed to be throughout, with none better than his overtime save on Ryan O'Reilly. A revitalized Colorado attack put much more pressure on number twenty tonight, and he was up to the task.
It's funny how these things seem to work. The Avalanche began to connect on breakout passes and wield their impressive speed; the Sharks exhibited a reduced level of dominance that defined the final forty one minutes of play Sunday night, and for pockets of the second and third, were scrambling to keep Colorado at bay. And yet the final scoreboard read something entirely different when the game was over, a homage to the unpredictable and thrilling nature of playoff hockey.
Dany Heatley, who missed game three with an undisclosed lower body injury, seemed to be skating with cement blocks tied to his skates tonight. He was unable to finish his checks, electing instead to reach out with his upper body to administer any physical contact. It was readily apparent after two shifts that during the regular season he would be allowed to recover from whatever ailment is plaguing him, but with a must-win game on hand, the coaching staff made the correct choice in deciding to call his number.
Heatley left everything he had on the ice last night, and even playing at half-speed, was inches away from putting home a game winner in overtime. Whether or not he suits up in game five is uncertain at this point-- I highly doubt he will attend the optional skate tomorrow at Sharks Ice, and will likely be a game-time decision again on Thursday.
Douglas Murray continued to struggle with the speed of the Avalanche forwards and, despite picking up an assist on the game-winning goal, could stand to tinker his game in order to shore up his play in front of Nabokov. Easing back physically is probably not in the DNA of the big Swede, but reducing the chances he takes when trying to land a big hit while pinching in the offensive zone will go a long way towards limiting the trend of being out of position down the line.
Colorado continued to give the Sharks defensive unit behind the net, eluding the Sharks efforts to seal the puck-carrier by utilizing quick turns and a willingness to drive the end line hard. It is an area of the play the Sharks need to improve on as this series heads into a best of three.
One defenseman who stood out tonight relative to expectations would be Kent Huskins. He was consistently standing up Colorado forwards at the blueline, deftly poke-checking the puck away, making smart and conservative breakout passes, as well as digging pucks out along the boards. It was his best game of the series thus far, and one that he can hopefully build on.
The second line of Ryane Clowe, Joe Pavelski, and Devin Setoguchi continued their run of dominance, and once again generated the best opportunities for San Jose. Patrick Marleau looked to have more jump last night and battled in the corners, but that unfortunately did not change the fact he has yet to register a goal during this playoff season. The shot totals and ice time are there for San Jose's most dynamic player, and the team will need him to produce tangible results in a critical game five.
Head coach Todd McLellan tinkered with his forward combinations at the beginning of the third period last night, rotating Dany Heatley off of the top line and replacing him with Torrey Mitchell. Heatley's ice time was cut back due to his injury, and Mitchell managed to fit in quite well with Thornton and Marleau. It will be interesting to see if the Sharks begin Thursday's game with these lines-- the decision likely will be made after assessing Heatley's lower body injury, with the fringe benefit being you now have a thirty-nine goal scorer facing easier competition with Logan Couture and Manny Malhotra. It will allow the Sharks to procure softer minutes for Heatley considering Todd McLellan will be afforded the last change on home ice.
It's a short-term solution to be certain (as a healthy Heatley should always play alongside Thornton), but with his skating ability in question, may be the best possible solution at this point for San Jose.
Four games in and it feels like four months already.
Wouldn't have it any other way.