Friday May 6th, 2016

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One hundred eleven minutes and 12 seconds into an instant playoff classic, Predators forward Mike Fisher stuffed home a rebound for the game-winner to earn Nashville a 4–3 triple-overtime Game 4 win over the Sharks and send the second-round series back to San Jose tied at two. The goal sent Bridgestone Arena into pandemonium and capped an historic night for the Predators, as Game 4 was the longest in franchise history and the victory gave Nashville a sixth playoff victory in a given year for just the second time ever. Game 5 is set for Saturday at 10 p.m. ET.

Three thoughts on a controversial, frantic, unforgettable slugfest in Nashville:

Sharks have a right to be steamed

The Sharks blitzed Nashville's Pekka Rinne in the first extra session and thought they might have had the game-winner when Joe Pavelski swept the puck into the net while sprawled on top of the netminder, but after a lengthy review the goal was waved off due to goaltender interference.

The NHL’s official explanation: “After reviewing all available replays and consulting with NHL Hockey Operations staff, the Referee confirmed that San Jose’s Joe Pavelski made incidental contact with Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne before the puck crossed the goal line, preventing Rinne from doing his job in the crease. Therefore the original call stands—no goal San Jose Sharks.”

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​Pavelski had some help from Predators forward Paul Gaustad in crashing into Rinne, but he had effectively pinned the goalie by the time he made final contact with the puck, and in the end, that image made overturning the call on the ice impossible.

San Jose fans will be able to slow down the tape for years to come and show exactly why the night should have ended right there, but as with most controversial reviews, it’s not a simple ruling. To what degree should Pavelski be held responsible for staying under control as he drives the net? Where’s the line between the natural contact that might be dished out by a defensive player trying to take on a puckcarrier and the next level up of intentional contact, a deliberate shove that puts his own goalie at risk of being taken out of the play?

It’s a pivotal decision that may have swung the series. Ultimately, the spirit of the call lines up with the optics of the play: The moment the puck crosses the goal line, Rinne is completely canceled out of the play by the would-be goal-scorer.

Special teams behind Sharks’ resilience

The Predators looked determined to pick up where they left off in Game 3’s 4–1 win, doubling their shot total in a dominant first period. But San Jose showed its experience, methodically retaking control to put the teams back on even terms down the stretch of regulation and seizing a late 3–2 lead in the third period on Brent Burns’s second goal of the night.

That gradual table-turning put the Predators on their heels and led to a string of power plays the Sharks made sure not to spoil. After going 0-for-4 in Game 3, San Jose notched its go-ahead goal with the man advantage, upping its mark to 4 for 12 for the series and 9 for 34 for the playoffs. Joonas Donskoi’s game-tying goal in the second period came just seconds after the end of the Sharks’ first power play of the game.

Every edge helps when it comes to winning on the road in the playoffs, and the team that scored four more power play goals than any other in the league during the regular season turned to its bread and butter to claw its way back into Game 4. But in the overtime session, the Sharks squandered four minutes of power play time gifted to them by Nashville captain Shea Weber, and those missed opportunities will haunt them.

What it means going forward

For the first time since December 18 and 20, the Sharks have lost consecutive road games, and now they return to San Jose with the tall task of flipping the momentum after losing one of this spring’s most draining games despite pouring chance after chance in Rinne’s direction.

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One thing working in San Jose’s favor in Game 5: the last change, which should free up Sharks coach Pete DeBoer to steer his top line of Joe Thornton, Pavelski and Tomas Hertl away from the Predators’ top D-pairing of Weber and Roman Josi, who combined to play 98:49 of ice time in Game 4.

Fisher’s goal was the culmination of a banner night for the line he centered with James Neal and Colin Wilson. The Fisher line accounted for all four Predators goals: Wilson banged home a rebound that fell to his feet 41 seconds into the game. Fisher also profited from a juicy first-period putback and Neal tied things up at 15:39 of the third period as Nashville emptied the tank chasing a one-goal deficit. The trio of veterans supplied the most consistent energy on a night that anyone could be excused for eventually lacking it, and they’ll need to duplicate that effort in Game 5 for the Predators to erase home ice advantage.

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