11 years ago today, the San Jose Sharks took a 2-0 series lead over the eighth-seeded Edmonton Oilers in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Joe Thornton, acquired in a blockbuster trade five months prior, scored his first postseason goal as a Shark.
Thornton’s tally was San Jose’s game-winning goal, but it was far from the game’s most memorable moment, let alone its most important. In this game, Raffi Torres blindsided Sharks rookie Milan Michalek, altering the course of the series and the Czech forward’s career.
Yet the Sharks were able to overcome Michalek’s injury for one night, and Thornton was in position to give the Sharks the win on a later power play thanks to the efforts of the most famously remembered penalty kill in franchise history.
Just over 13 minutes into the second period, Patrick Rissmiller and Josh Gorges committed interference and boarding penalties, respectively, just 19 seconds apart. That left the Sharks, nursing a 1-0 lead at the time, to face a 5-on-3 for 1:41.
Then-head coach Ron Wilson sent defensemen Scott Hannan and Kyle McLaren, the team’s leaders in ice time, out to kill the penalty along with bottom six forward Mark Smith, whose 1:49 per game on the penalty kill was only fourth among forwards. Little did he know that they would be the only three players to play during the 5-on-3.
Things started well enough for a two-man disadvantage, as the trio kept the Oilers to the outside for the penalty kill’s first 31 seconds, until Sharks goaltender Vesa Toskala stopped Jarrett Stoll’s one-timer, which was Edmonton’s first shot and shot attempt of the power play.
Kyle McLaren nearly cleared the ensuing loose puck but Chris Pronger, booed every time the puck touched his stick, kept the play alive and ensured the Oilers continued to pass quickly in order to pull the Sharks’ penalty killers out of position. The defense bent, but didn’t break.
Unfortunately, the same could not be said of two of the Sharks’ sticks.
Toskala then stopped another Stoll one-timer, and McLaren once again failed to clear the zone, shortly after Hannan broke his stick. McLaren got tied up with an Edmonton forward, and fell to the ice as he could not clear the zone.
Seconds later, Smith broke his stick attempting to take away the slot pass. With just over 30 seconds remaining on the two-man advantage, McLaren’s stick was the only one a Sharks skater could use.
In the ensuing sequence, Stoll fired two shots wide of the net, Ales Hemsky and Ryan Smyth failed to connect on a wide-open backdoor pass, and Toskala robbed a wide open Fernando Pisani to preserve the 1-0 scoreline.
With just two seconds left on the two-man-advantage, Pronger fed Stoll at the left point for yet another one-timer, but Hannan was there to save the day. The defenseman not only blocked the shot, but managed to swat the loose puck out of the zone and send the San Jose crowd into a frenzy.
“That was the Black Knight from ‘Monty Python (and the Holy Grail),’” Wilson said after the game. “Guys dropping, sticks breaking, pieces flying off. It was an unbelievable effort.
“I’ve never heard a crowd that loud.”
“Simply brilliant penalty killing, simply brilliant netminding, and a standing ovation.” play-by-play announcer Joe Beninati bellowed on the Outdoor Life Network (now NBCSN) broadcast.
The Sharks managed to kill the second penalty, too, albeit barely. Seconds after the power play expired, Sergei Samsonov tied the game for the Oilers.
Yet, San Jose limited the potential damage in holding the Oilers to one power play-influenced goal, and remained in position to win the game in the the third period.
“We’re paying the price and producing the effort to win,” Thornton said. “I knew it was just a matter of time before I put one of my scoring chances in, but that penalty kill was a big factor in this game.”
The success proved fleeting, as the Sharks would not only lose Michalek for two of the next four games, but the next four games themselves as the Oilers advanced to the Western Conference finals and ultimately the Stanley Cup Final.
Yet the win provided Sharks fans with a truly iconic postseason moment, perhaps only topped by San Jose’s run to its first-ever Stanley Cup Final appearance a season ago.
“That’s one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen on the ice,” Toskala told reporters after the game. “I saw like four pieces of sticks there, and that didn’t help the situation. But we got the kill. I guess we got a little lucky.”
I guess Sharks fans got a little lucky, too.