Mission Accomplished: Sharks Rule the Pacific as Flames Evaporate
San Jose Sharks arrived to Calgary on the last leg of their final road trip of the regular season. A win meant that they would clinch the Pacific Division. On top of that, a win by the Avalanche would mean that the Flames would miss the playoffs for the first time since 2003.
That's exactly what happened.
Sharks got on the board first, with a power play goal by Rob Blake. If someone on the Sharks roster benefited from the Olympic break, it is Rob Blake. He's no longer shooting just from the blue line, as he's done for most of the season. Blake is now getting closer to the net, and his offensive vision is still there, if not his slap shot. This is how he scored another goal, as Logan Couture was screening Kipper, and Rob Blake put the shot behind the two. Since the Sharks started winning again, Blake has 9 points in 7 games, including 2 goals.
As we praise Blake, let's not omit Couture's role in this goal. We don't see Thornton, Pavelski, Marleau or Malhotra - other centers who see power play time - screen goalies as often as we see Couture there. Rookie center loves that spot and it is one of his main assets.
Second goal of the game was scored by Jamie McGinn as a result of the relentless fore-check by the Sharks. I thought that goal represented everything good that Sharks did in that game. While the Flames were more physical and outhit the Sharks 22-11, the Sharks skated with more energy and determination in the first two periods, and their fore-check lead to a logical goal. The Flames were unable to clear the puck in their zone, it got to Vlasic who shot it from the blue line, and if the first try by Couture to redirect a rebound did not find the net, McGinn made sure the puck still went in. He picked it up as it bounced off Kipper, skated it past him and put it in the open net.
The commitment by the forwards to play defense was also the reason why none of the players from the HTML line got on the scoreboard. They were mostly invisible tonight in the offensive zone and Thornton's 37% on faceoffs tonight did not help either. But they were busy in the defensive zone.
The Flames came out in the 3rd period knowing this was likely their last chance to save the season. The Sharks knew it too and they dropped all the way back to sit on the lead. The Flames did score a goal at the start of the period on a power play. Malhotra intercepted the pass, but failed to clear it, and the defense stood still watching the puck go past two Sharks players and Nabokov into the empty net.
Despite all that, the defensive effort did pay out for the Sharks. Nabokov had another strong night, as did all the defensive units. Nothing stopped the Sharks from earning another two points and a fifth Pacific Division championship in the club's history.