Another Game 7, another rout.
The San Jose Sharks roared out of the gate and never let up on the way to a 5–0 pasting of the Nashville Predators on Thursday night.
Joe Pavelski, Joel Ward, Logan Couture, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau scored for the Sharks. Rookie Martin Jones, playing in his first career Game 7, made 20 saves to earn the shutout.
The Sharks now move on to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2011 where they'll face the Blues. That series opens Sunday night in St. Louis.
Here are three thoughts on this series finale:
The 60-minute effort might be the Loch Ness monster of hockey: It doesn't exist. But the game that San Jose delivered tonight might have some believing it does.
From the opening face-off, this one was all Sharks. They executed their game plan perfectly. They got pucks deep. They won battles. They outshot the Preds 17-3 in the opening period.
Most important, they were opportunistic. Nashville, so disciplined in Game 6, gave San Jose an early power play chance when Viktor Arvidsson airmailed a clearing attempt into the seats. The Sharks made quick work of it, executing a set play that led to a beautiful three-touch sequence: Thornton to Marleau to Pavelski, who fired a one-timer that beat Pekka Rinne high to stake a 1–0 lead 9:02 into the first. The goal was Pavelski's ninth, tying a franchise record for a single postseason.
The full frontal assault continued, with the Sharks pinning the Preds deep in their own zone (and, more often than not, face-first into the glass). They almost made it 2–0 moments later on an intense series in front of Rinne. Couture, alone in the slot, snapped his stick on a five-bell scoring chance, and seconds later, Brent Burns rang one off the post to Rinne's left.
But the keeper's luck wouldn't hold. With about three minutes left in the period, Ward dashed toward the Nashville zone, danced around a flatfooted Roman Josi and then deked Rinne out of his shorts to give the Sharks a 2–0 lead.
From that point on, the result was inevitable. But San Jose's effort never wavered. This was boot-to-throat until the final horn.
Maybe the 60-minute game is real after all ...
A wall of teal
Jones's first career playoff shutout was almost a no-sweater. Of the 20 shots he faced, no more than three were quality scoring chances.
Full marks to a total team effort on defense. When the Predators managed to get the puck through the neutral zone, they ran into a wall of teal standing them up at the blue line. When they managed to get into the zone, they were beaten to loose pucks and quickly forced out.
There were maybe two bursts of extended possession for Nashville in the contest and neither ended with a solid opportunity. They were forced to the outside where they ran into a tangle of sticks and bodies. San Jose ended up blocking 22 shots on the night.
The Blues may come into the WCF with the defensive rep, but after this series the Sharks look capable of matching them.
This was a total non-starter for the Predators. But even under those circumstances, they might have been in the game longer if all three of their top players hadn't melted down so spectacularly.
Shea Weber, Josi and Rinne were so good this season, All-Stars, each of them. But here in Game 7, when they were supposed to be at their best, they were at their absolute worst.
Weber, whose giveaway led to Couture's backbreaking unassisted tally, was on the ice for all five goals against. So was Josi, who was turnstiled on Ward's goal. Rinne, who came into this contest with a 1.65 GAA in three previous elimination games this season, was beaten three times through the five-hole and gave up all five before throwing a tantrum and leaving the game.
They weren't the only guilty parties. Mike Fisher, one of Nashville’s offensive stars in the series, left a drop pass just inside the offensive blue line on a third period penalty kill. The Sharks turned it into a four-on-one break and Thornton's goal. That was just one of the four he was on for.
Hard to say for sure what happened, but this looked like a team that ran out of gas. The Preds played a lot of hockey over the past month, more than ever before in franchise history. And it was Weber, Josi and Rinne who did most of the heavy lifting along the way. In the end, going back-to-back sevens against California teams might have been a bridge too far.